SD28 - Lead Poisoning Among Children

Executive Summary:
In Senate Joint Resolution No. 288, the 1995 Virginia General Assembly requested the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to facilitate a dialogue among medical professionals and to aggressively seek cooperative ways to prevent, identify, and treat lead poisoning among children.

By applying national prevalence rates, it has been estimated that approximately 40,000 Virginia children under age six are lead-poisoned, primarily from exposure to lead-based paint and to soil contaminated by leaded emissions. Among young children and pregnant women, lead poisoning presents a grave danger. Elevated blood lead levels have been shown to affect developing brain cells, and are associated with permanent developmental problems among children. Societal effects include higher costs for medical follow up and special education, higher school dropout rates, lost personal income and productivity, and increased delinquency and crime.

To implement this resolution, VDH was directed to join with and seek the assistance of a wide variety of public and private organizations. This report describes the lead poisoning prevention activities conducted as joint efforts between VDH and those entities, including the Medical Society of Virginia, Virginia Pediatric Society, health care community, parents and grandparents of young children, citizens and businesses of the Commonwealth. It also includes a description of the assistance obtained from the Commonwealth's health regulatory boards, from components of the health care industry including nurses, hospitals, and clinics; from the Virginia Parents and Teachers Association; and from other organizations that may assist in educating parents, grandparents, and children about lead poisoning.

Representatives of these groups were recruited to serve on the Virginia Lead Task Force to facilitate comprehensive public and private cooperation. As a result of these collaborative efforts, at least 200,000 persons have already been provided information or educational material regarding lead poisoning prevention. Included in this total were numerous presentations, articles for newsletters, brochures, and attendance at conferences and health and safety fairs. Target audiences for these activities included private physicians and nurses throughout the state, parents and grandparents, Head Start coordinators, child care providers, schools, and businesses. The overall success of these public awareness activities will be measured by comparing the results of public awareness polls taken in 1995 and 1997.

Recommendations were obtained from a series of parent focus group sessions as to which ongoing public education approaches would be the most effective. Parents emphasized the importance of local involvement (parents, providers, local role models, and coalitions) in the development of programs and educational materials. Local private organizations are also valuable as they are frequently aware of their own communities' needs.

Continuation of these collaborative efforts is expected to result in greater awareness on the part of families and medical care providers of the importance of screening, especially children at high risk for lead poisoning, and simple, inexpensive methods to avoid lead exposure. Collaboration among such a broad-based group of citizens and community organizations should ultimately reduce the number of children exposed to lead. This benefits the citizens of the Commonwealth by increasing educational attainment and personal income, lowering medical and special education costs, and reducing delinquency and crime.