STATE — In an effort to increase the number of New Jersey children tested for lead poisoning, a Department of Health pilot project is using portable screening devices to give families rapid results and prevent lifelong health and learning problems.
Using the LeadCare II Blood Lead Testing System, nine local and county health departments are expected to test more than 2,000 children and identify lead poisoned children earlier and link them appropriate medical treatment. Testing conducted as part of this pilot is free of charge. Lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms—in the absence of testing, it frequently goes unrecognized.
“Early diagnosis is critical—it allows children to get treated sooner and serious health and learning consequences can be avoided,’ said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. “Blood lead testing also guides lead remediation and enforcement actions to eliminate lead contamination in housing, consumer products, and the environment.”
This new pilot project provides rapid results, which means public health officials can educate parents about the results and begin intervention immediately. In the past, getting results would take up to a week and public health offices often found it difficult to get back in touch with families to report the results and begin intervention if the results were elevated.
“The benefit of the pilot program is that families are able to have their children’s blood lead level explained by a nurse or health educator on-site,” said Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito. “All of our pilot participants are equipped to provide education about the effects of lead, lead poisoning prevention, and can work with primary care providers to ensure treatment as necessary.”
Today, Deputy Commissioner Dr. Arturo Brito launched the pilot in the City of Passaic with Mayor Alex Blanco. During the event, the Passaic City Health Department unveiled its new mobile health van, which will be parked across the street at the WIC clinic, that will provide lead screening throughout the day. The Passaic Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office also collaborated in the event by encouraging mothers who visit that day to have their children tested at the mobile van. This announcement was held at 11:30am on the steps of the Passaic City Hall located at 330 Passaic Street.
The Passaic Health Department will receive $159,250 from Department of Health to address lead issues in the city—on top of the new equipment they received.
The Passaic Health Department is one of nine health department that were chosen to participate based on: having a population at-risk for lead poisoning, capacity to carry out testing and current rates of screening.
The nine pilot program participants are:
- Camden County Dept. of Health and Human Services
- City of Hackensack Department of Health
- Town of Morristown Department of Health
- Cumberland County Department of Health
- Monmouth County Department of Health
- City of Jersey City Dept of Health and Human Services
- Middlesex County Department of Health
- City of Passaic Department of Health
- Salem County Dept. of Health and Human Services
The LeadCare II Blood Lead Testing System is a portable Point-of-Care testing device by Magellan Diagnostics (www.leadcare2.com/). The significance of this new portable, point of care test, which was developed in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that children can be screened for lead wherever they receive health services. This allows rapid diagnosis and the opportunity for follow-up, all in one visit. To carry out the test, health officials prick the finger of the child and take a small sample of blood, analyze the blood with the testing system and get results within three minutes. If the blood is taken from a finger and the blood lead level is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of blood, which is the blood level of concern in the state, the child will undergo further testing with a blood sample from a vein.
The state negotiated with Magellan to take out older equipment the state had purchased to re-invest in software through this pilot project to bring the new equipment to nine public health departments. Some private doctors’ offices, federally qualified health centers and local health departments are already using the test in New Jersey.
Low screening rates continue to expose children to the effects of lead poisoning. Although New Jersey has a universal screening law, which requires all children to be tested for lead poisoning by age one and age two or at least once by age six, there are still some children who are not tested for lead poisoning. In New Jersey, by age 3, 76 percent of children have been tested—this new pilot seeks to improve rates.
Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children, according to the CDC. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. All houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. However, it is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. It is important to determine the construction year of the house or the dwelling where your child may spend a large amount of time if the housing was built before 1978, assume that the paint has lead unless tests show otherwise.
Children under the age of 6 years old are at greatest risk because they are growing so rapidly and because they tend to put their hands or other objects, which may be contaminated with lead dust, into their mouths. Children are exposed to lead by swallowing leaded dust or soil that gets on their hands or other objects that they put into their mouths such as toys; swallowing leaded paint chips; breathing leaded dust or lead contaminated air; and eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with lead.
To prevent your child from being exposed to lead take the following steps:
- Make sure your child does not have access to peeling paint or chewable surfaces painted with lead-based paint
- Regularly wet-mop floors and wet-wipe window components
- Regularly wash children’s hands and toys
- Prevent children from playing in bare soil
- Create barriers between living/play areas and lead sources
Overall, the Department of Health dedicates more $2.2 million for lead screening, case management, abatement and investigation reflecting the state’s commitment to preventing childhood lead poisoning.
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