LIMA – Childhood lead poisoning is still a concern in Allen County, which had one of the highest percentages of children who tested positive for elevated blood lead levels in 2018, according to Ohio Department of Health records.
The problem: a high concentration of homes built prior to 1978, many of which still contain lead paint.
The Ohio Department of Health in 2018 confirmed 34 cases of children under age 6 with elevated blood lead levels in Allen County, which accounted for 3.1% of all children tested in Allen County that year.
The prevalence of older homes here helps explain why Allen County had one of the highest percentages of children who tested positive for lead poisoning in 2018, behind only 11 counties, including major metros such as Cuyahoga and Lucas counties.
The Ohio Department of Health has already worked to remove lead hazards from some older homes in Allen County through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant several years ago.
The City of Lima and West Ohio Community Action Partners have also received HUD funding to perform similar work in Lima next year, details of which are forthcoming.
That list includes 10 properties in Lima and one in Delphos in Allen County; three in St. Marys and one in Wapakoneta in Auglaize County; two in Kenton in Hardin County; one each in Leipsic and Ottawa in Putnam County; and one in Delphos and one in Van Wert in Van Wert County.
The damage can last a lifetime.
Children who are exposed to lead at a young age are at risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other attention disorders. Lead exposure can even lower a child’s IQ, delay growth and impair hearing.
Because the body treats lead as calcium, children under the age of 6 who are exposed absorb lead at significantly higher rates than adults.
Pregnant women are also at risk of premature delivery and stillbirth, or of exposing their children to brain damage.
Lisa Salyers, a public health consultant for the Ohio Department of Health’s lead division, said the most common long-term side effects associated with childhood lead poisoning are lack of concentration and an inability to delay gratification, which can affect a child’s education.
But there are no symptoms for lead poisoning, making it difficult to identify.
“You’re not going to be able to look at a child and tell the child has an elevated blood lead level or that that child has been poisoned,” said Salyers, who spoke to the Family and Children First council in Lima last week.
Salyers said children should be tested between the ages of 1 and 2 years old. Because Ohio does not have universal testing, only children enrolled in Medicaid are required to be tested for lead before they turn 3. Even those children, Salyers said, are not always being tested.
If a child has not been tested for lead at 1 or 2 years old, Salyers still recommends testing for lead poisoning before the child turns 6.
Ninety-five percent of children Salyers sees in Ohio are exposed from deteriorating lead paint, common in homes built prior to 1978.
But there are other hazards: When lead paint from a home’s siding drips into the soil, it becomes contaminated. Windows and doors are a common source of friction, which in turn causes the paint to deteriorate. Lead dust may accumulate in homes with lead paint as well. And parents who work in construction may unintentionally track lead dust into their homes.
“As long as you remove the exposure,” Salyers said, “the lead levels are going to drop. The bad side to that is, the damage is irreversible when you’re dealing with lead, so even though you remove the exposure point, the damage is already going to be done to that child.”
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.