Major contributors to lead exposure and who’s most at risk

In Pennsylvania, health officials said parents should be more concerned with their children being exposed to peeling lead-based paint and dust that contains lead particles than drinking water contaminated by lead.

Click the image to learn more about lead exposure in Pennsylvania from our news partner Keystone Crossroads:

That’s because Pennsylvania has older housing than many states. Nearly 60 percent of homes in the state were built before 1970, when lead-based paint was more likely to be used. Lead-based paint wasn’t banned until 1978.

Marilyn Howarth, of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania, said people with lower incomes are most at risk for lead exposure. They and their children are more likely to be living in older housing, rental properties, or homes that haven’t been maintained.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends high-risk children get tested for lead at 9 to 12 months and again at 2 years old. The initial blood lead test is a finger or toe prick; if the results are elevated, the doctor may pull a larger sample from a vein.

Tony Pizon, the chief of medical toxicology at UPMC, said a blood lead level above 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is a “trigger of concern” for doctors.

More than 13,000 children tested above that 5 microgram level in Pennsylvania, of which 660 were located in Pittsburgh, according to a 2014 Pennsylvania Department of Health report.

When a child’s lead blood test is more than 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in Allegheny County, the county health department is notified to do a lead risk assessment. An inspector takes samples of paint, dust, water and soil to determine the origin of the lead exposure and talks to the parents about the child’s activities.

Dave Namey, who manages the county’s Housing and Community Environment program, said three to five inspectors conducted nearly 30 risk assessments last year.

Lead can be ingested by a crawling baby putting their hands in dust and into their mouths, or a child could be eating paint chips or chewing on a window sill, Namey said.

Lead-based paint near windows or doors can flake or peel as they’re used, he added.

“Deteriorated paint ends up...getting crushed and pulverized into particles of lead that end up in normal household dust,” Namey said.

It can also be tracked into a home from a porch coated in lead-based paint or from tainted soil.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.