Canton Repository

May 4, 2004

Advocates claim Stark 7th in state for children with high levels of lead

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON -- About 19,000 Ohio children under age 6 have lead poisoning, but less than one-third of them have been identified, an environmental advocacy group estimated in a study released Tuesday.

The state, using information from health-care providers, counted 5,700 children with dangerous lead levels. But the Environmental Working Group contends that many others have been missed.

Lead poisoning causes permanent neurological damage and behavioral problems in children, who are most susceptible to its ill effects when their brains and nervous systems are developing.

In Ohio, Stark County ranks seventh for dangerous lead levels. An estimated 594 children in the county have high amounts of lead in their bodies, defined as more than 10 micrograms per one-fifth of a pint of blood. The state says 64 children are confirmed to have lead poisoning in Stark.

Tuscarawas County ranked 25th in the state, with an estimated 146 children with high lead levels. Twelve children are confirmed to have lead poisoning in the county.

According to the report, the worst counties for lead poisoning and number of children at risk are Cuyahoga, 4,011; Hamilton, 1,589; Franklin, 1,495; Lucas, 996; Montgomery, 960; and Summit, 887.

The group came up with its own estimate of the number of children who have lead poisoning using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and census bureau.

Poor children are several times more likely than affluent children to have high lead levels.

In Canton, the report shows, one of the neighborhoods with the worst lead problems is on the northwest side in an area to the west of Cleveland Avenue, between 12th Street on the north and Tuscarawas Street W on the south. There, an estimated 7 percent of children are at risk, compared to an average of 2 percent in the county.

In Massillon, one of the highest-lead areas is on the northeast side, running from First Street east to Fifth Street, and from Cherry Avenue south to North Avenue. The report says 6 percent of children in that neighborhood are at risk.

In New Philadelphia, in Tuscarawas County, an area encompassing more than two dozen square blocks southwest of the intersection of Routes 800 and 416 has a high estimated lead content. About 7 percent of children are at risk in that neighborhood, compared to an average of 2 percent in Tuscarawas County.

Release of the study coincides with a new state law that took effect April 1. The law requires every child 1 to 2 years of age to be tested for lead in “high risk” ZIP codes.

“It’s a big step forward,” EWG Senior Vice President Richard Wiles said of the law. “We think it addresses a problem that’s pretty acute in Ohio — the underestimating of these high-risk kids, particularly by HMOs or health providers under the Medicaid program.”

Wiles hopes the EWG study will increase awareness of lead poisoning. By demonstrating that “people are watching,” the report also could bring pressure on health-care providers to comply with the new law, he said.

The report blames the failure to identify more lead-poisoned children on what it calls a “pervasive failure of doctors and HMOs to test children for lead.”

A federal law requires all poor children 1 to 2 years of age to be tested for lead poisoning. These children have their health care paid for through Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor.

Ohio officials admit the state has fallen far short of compliance.

“Less than half of children (on Medicaid) are being tested, but there has been significant improvement within the last three years,” said Karen Hughes, chief of child and family services at the Ohio Department of Health.

She blamed the failure to test on a widespread perception among health-care providers and the public “that because lead has been taken out of paint and has been taken out of gasoline that we’ve solved the lead problem.”

EWG criticized the Bush administration for proposing a 20 percent cut in lead poisoning prevention programs next year.

The main source of lead poisoning today is peeling and deteriorating paint that contains lead in older houses. Young children are particularly susceptible because of a tendency to put things in their mouth.

Lead was a major ingredient in paint until 1950 and was still used in some paint until 1978, when the residential use of lead paint was banned.

Dust and soil also may be contaminated by lead.

The group’s report is available at:

www.ewg.org

To find out where lead poisoning is estimated to be highest, type in a county in the appropriate portion of the online report. Click on cities, neighborhoods or ZIP codes for more detailed estimates.

The report also lists high-risk ZIP codes where the new state law requires testing for all children.

Lead poisoning estimates for area counties are: Wayne, 159; Carroll, 41; Harrison, 29; Coshocton, 56; and Holmes, 90.

EWG did the study at the request of the Cleveland-based George Gund Foundation, which helps finance the group’s work.

What is lead

and what does it do?

• Lead is a neurotoxin that causes permanent brain damage, especially among children. It also can cause problems with pregnancy, high blood pressure and muscle and joint pain.

• Contamination today comes primarily from flakes of lead paint, especially in houses built before 1950.

• Lead paint was banned in 1978.

• Small flakes of lead-contaminated dust are ingested when children eat the flakes or brush their hands against them and then put their hands in their mouths.

• Safe levels are now considered 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood and lower. But a New England Journal of Medicine study in April 2003 showed an average IQ drop of 7.4 points for children with even those levels of lead in their blood.

Source: Environmental Working Group; U.S. EPA