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Lead poisoning prevalent in our county

Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is coming up and given that Chautauqua County has high levels of both childhood lead poisoning and cardiovascular disease, let’s explore this important topic and how they relate.

Lead is especially dangerous to young children. Exposure to even tiny amounts of lead can reduce a child’s IQ and cause permanent learning and behavior problems.

Lead exposure may also cause physical problems such as digestive issues, fatigue, irritability, seizures, and even death. These symptoms are also common in adults with lead poisoning, and new research shows a link between lead and heart health.

A study published April 2018 in The Lancet Public Health Journal found that even low-level exposure to lead increases the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, and is linked to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and coronary heart disease.

The researchers estimated that 28.7% of premature cardiovascular disease deaths could be attributable to lead exposure.

Lead exposure may be causing over 400,000 deaths in the United States every year! Chautauqua County has rates of premature cardiovascular disease deaths that are far higher than the New York State or national average. Our high smoking rate plays a role but lead poisoning could be partially to blame.

How much lead is too much? The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. New York state Department of Health recently decreased the level that considers a child to be lead poisoned from a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per deciliter to 5, but any level above 0 may be cause for concern.

Locally, the most common source of exposure for children is old lead paint that remains in homes built before lead paint was banned in 1978.

Over 80 percent of homes in our county may contain lead paint. Deteriorating lead paint creates lead dust, and it only takes a few grains of this dust to raise a child’s blood lead level and cause permanent damage.

In adults, lead poisoning is likely to come from occupational or hobby exposure. Jobs in auto repair, pipe fitting, painting, construction, along with furniture refinishing and repurposing or crafting with old painted wood are common sources. People who spend a lot of time at shooting ranges are also at risk.

Employers are legally required to ensure that workers are protected from lead exposure. Individuals who must work around lead should follow additional precautions to avoid exposure, such as washing hands and face before eating or drinking, using a properly fitted respirator, wet cleaning and vacuuming, and avoid wearing work clothes and shoes home.

Because lead paint is the number one exposure for children in Chautauqua County, the County Health Department will test any home or rental unit for lead paint, and work with the property owner to see that it gets fixed properly to prevent exposure. Ideally, landlords should get units tested and have all lead hazards eliminated before a new tenant moves it, but tenants with children under 6 years of age living or visiting at least six hours per week can get their unit checked for free.

Lead poisoning is harming our community. It will take property owners, employers, individuals, elected officials, and health officials working together to eliminate lead poisoning, but it must be done.

Learn more at: or call the Health Department at 716-753-4481.

Information gathered for this article came from the Centers for Disease Control and WebMD. CHQ 250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: activecounty@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

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