Source: NJ Dept. of Health
The number of New Jersey children with lead poisoning has dropped 75 percent over two decades from 13,448 in 1996 to 3,426 cases today. And the number of children who are tested for lead each year has increased to more than 200,000 children in the past fiscal year.
Every day in New Jersey, in local health departments, community health centers, doctors’ offices, Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clinics and in-home visits, health professionals are conducting blood tests for children to see if they have elevated levels. Every day these professionals and many others, including partners and stakeholders in public education, teach families about how to prevent lead poisoning, which can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, anemia and kidney damage.
These programs bring nurses, community health workers and, in some cases, trained parents into the homes of at-risk families to provide information on lead poisoning and referrals on child health and safety issues. Other Health Department programs educate mothers in WIC.
Every mother or caregiver who enters one of the state’s 100 WIC clinics is interviewed to check that their child has been tested for lead. If they have not, they are referred to a clinic or physician for immediate testing. If a child’s tests show elevated levels of lead in the blood, the family is warned about potential sources of lead exposure in the home, such as chipped paint and unsafe imported products.
For years, New Jersey’s poison control center, the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES), has used its state funding for lead poisoning education including a 24-hour hotline (1-800-222-1222).
The agency has also issued numerous warnings about non-traditional sources of lead poisoning, such as imported candies, jewelry, cosmetics, spices, pottery and home remedies.
After Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey — heightening the risk of lead exposure because of debris from thousands of destroyed homes — the state Deparment of Health procured a $5.4 million federal grant to fight lead poisoning, used for testing kits, public education for inspectors and other professionals, and continuing education for health care providers to better understand how housing hazards can result in lead poisoning (in conjunction with the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics).
Certainly challenges remain as long as there is the possibility of childhood lead poisoning. But New Jersey’s county and local public health officials, doctors, nurses and community health workers strive every day to accomplish its prevention and reduction.