Kids in Midwest states are seeing dramatic increase in lead poisoning after drought

Pediatricians say cases of lead poisoning among children are on the rise nationally, with a 32 percent rise in children who tested with elevated levels in two weeks, from September 13-20.

The increase is linked to the continued drought across the Midwest.

In the area of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska, the number of children with elevated levels increased by 56 percent for children from 2 months to 5 years, compared to two weeks prior.

And there’s more concern. The newly reported spike in cases is in states that have a tie to the Prairie du Chien, Wis. lead mine disaster, which took place between January and March 1984.

The field health officer for the Chicagoland area- Gary, Ind., Sharon Lehnen Larson said she has seen an uptick in lead-related health screenings as a result of these reported cases.

Larson told Fox 59 News that there is no quick or easy answer to why this is happening.

She said, “that’s probably why it’s hard to find an answer because there really are many factors and all of them need to be looked at,” Larson told Fox 59 News.

For one, despite all the resources poured into this region’s lead contamination control efforts, Larson says people still need to be more aware and sensitive to the symptoms.

She explained, “It’s not necessarily a child that has had an apple a day since they can drink water.”

She said, “It’s really more of a focus on the conditions that lead concentrations get really high at.”

For the last 16 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has encouraged child lead levels to be limited at 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

This means if a child has lead levels of 2 or more in their blood on October 11, then the child’s risk of blood lead levels being over 5 is high.

The children’s prevalence rate also appears to be dropping from the national trend, however.

Larson said, “That is a very good sign, that we are making a reduction in this rate of prevalence, but then again, lead poisoning isn’t something that you just solve over a period of time.”

She adds, “it’s a lifetime issue. You can’t just clear away this because people who are very old may have ingested lead.”

A lead specialist with America’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Navid Hamidi agrees that lead poisoning is not something that people can just go back to work, school or outdoors.

Hamidi told Fox 59 News that, “the general public needs to know that this is still an issue.”

He said, “it has to be a public health issue, it’s a real issue. It impacts children every day in this country and it’s not going away.”

We asked Dr. Larson what she would say to any parents who are facing these challenges.

She says, “The most important thing to know is that we are making a major change in this area.”

“Everything we know about eliminating lead poisoning we’ve known for 80 years, all the science has proven that we’re making very, very good progress, and everybody can take advantage of those changes.”

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