Over the past year, more than 70 Dane County children were reported to have elevated lead concentrations in their blood in what officials are calling “a public health concern,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the Dane County Public Health.
As health departments across the country pause to recognize Lead Poisoning Awareness Week, Madison’s agency reflected on the risks lead exposure poses to children, and encouraged community members to test their homes — and their bodies — for the toxin.
“Although anyone can get lead poisoning, young children are particularly vulnerable because their normal behavior of putting their hands, toys and other things in their mouth, increases their risk for exposure,” said John Hausbeck, environmental health supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC). "A blood test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning.”
Areas with older housing in Madison, like the Isthmus and the near East and near West sides, are the most susceptible to lead poisoning. The homes built between 1950 and 1978 typically have less lead in them than homes built before 1950.
That said, 42 housing units and childcare sites were inspected and advised about lead risks in 2017, according to the Public Health Agency. Some of those sites were daycare centers and public schools.
In order to address rampant lead problems, the city replaced public water infrastructure in 2011. It also offers free visits to pre-1978 homes for families with children under age 6.
“There is no safe level of lead exposure in children,” the statement said. “The good news is that lead poisoning is preventable.”
While the risk of lead exposure historically falls along socio-economic lines, Amy Vieth, the Agency of Public Health’s health education coordinator, said in Madison this is not always the case.
“In Madison and Dane County, we have seen less lead poisoning among low income families because much of the low-income housing was built after 1978 and does not have lead coated surfaces,” Vieth said.