The Indiana Department of Health released House Enrolled Act 1313, which requires all health care providers serving children to offer lead testing for kids under the age of 6.
This statewide legislation went into effect Jan. 1, and the department created a public awareness campaign called Indiana Lead Free to bring awareness to the importance of testing.
According to the Indiana Lead Free website, the biggest risk of lead exposure in Indiana and for children is through lead-based paint. Homes built before 1980, which make up 57% of Indiana’s housing, most likely contain lead-based paint.
Lead can be described as a toxic heavy metal, and historically, it has been used in a wide variety of products, including gasoline, paint, plumbing pipes, ceramics, batteries and cosmetics.
Children can be more susceptible to lead exposure through swallowing or breathing in lead dust that is created when the paint peels and cracks.
Lead also can be found in certain water pipes, soil near some industrial sites, some toys and jewelry and certain jobs or hobbies that involve dealing with lead-based paint.
According to the Indiana Department of Health, children under 6 are especially vulnerable because their bodies use the toxic lead in brain and bone development. Lead dust can collect on surfaces or objects that younger children could likely touch or put certain objects in their mouths.
The effects of lead exposure can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, including lower IQ, slowed growth and development, learning behaviors and problems including decreased ability to pay attention and underperformance in schools as well as hearing and speech issues.
Ashley Stith, former nurse educator and nurse residency program coordinator who now works in the pediatrics department at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, said the hospital is aware of the statewide campaign.
“Testing is recommended, and we offer it at a child’s 1- and 2-year checkups, but we can do it any time if a child hasn’t been previously tested between the ages of 3 and 6,” she said.
In 2022, the Lead and Healthy Homes Division of the Indiana Department of Health released its 2021 Childhood Lead Surveillance Report that showed the number of children tested for lead, the number with an elevated blood lead level and the number of lead risk assessments performed. The report also showed results of elevated blood levels in children based on county results.
In the report, data showed children under the age of 7 are at a higher risk of lead exposure based on certain risk factors and the environment they are in.
According to the data, children are at higher risk if they tend to live in households in which the residents are low income, residing in properties before 1978, residing in old and poorly maintained properties, have parents or household members who work in industries that deal with lead and recent immigrants where lead can be prevalent in spices, cosmetics, jewelry, ceramics and medicine.
In 2021, an elevated blood lead level was considered to be 10 or more micrograms per deciliter. The blood reference value has since changed, but in 2021, counties such as Jackson and Bartholomew showed results of elevated blood lead levels.
In Jackson County, 586 children were tested for elevated blood lead levels, and 15 children were reported to have at least one elevated test with a result greater or equal to 10.
In Bartholomew County, 1,216 children were tested, and five children were reported to have at least one elevated blood lead level with a result greater or equal to 10. Also, a total of five risk assessments were completed to identify hazards in that environment.
With a major risk factor being homes that were built before 1978, the surrounding downtown area of Seymour is considered a high risk factor area for lead exposure, according to a risk map provided by the Indiana Department of Health.
Currently, the Jackson County Health Department does not offer onsite blood lead testing, and those who are interested in having a child or pregnant woman tested for lead poisoning would have to contact a local health care provider.
The health department, however, is working on an ad campaign to help increase awareness in Jackson County using the materials it received from the Indiana Department of Health, said Paul Ramsey, environmental health director for the Jackson County Health Department.
“The Jackson County Health Department will be working with providers in our area to help assure that all children at risk for lead exposure are tested for lead,” Ramsey said.
The Bartholomew County Health Department offers onsite blood lead testing for children under the age of 6 and pregnant women by appointment only.