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State cracking down on lead hazards in homes

There are hundreds of homes in Ohio that have paint and other entities that are poisoning children with lead and state health officials want them left unoccupied until abatement issues are addressed.

The Ohio Department of Health is working to compile a list of residential properties across the state that have unaddressed lead hazards. They are also urging local health departments in Butler, Clark, Montgomery and others to leave no stone unturned when it comes to identifying environments that are poisoning children.

There are at least 20 local residential properties in Montgomery County currently listed as having lead paint hazards, referred to as an Open Lead Abatement Work Order. These are homes where children suffered from lead poisoning, and were consequently issued as “Not to Occupy” areas.

Melanie Amato, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, told this news organization that the agency plans to have a list of homes across the state with unaddressed lead hazards on the department website in the next week.

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Until a property abates all lead issues, those orders prohibit anyone from living there. Statewide, there are more than 300 non-complaint cases where a child was poisoned at an hazardous property, according to an investigation by The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

University of Cincinnati researcher Kim Dietrich told this newspaper that children exposed to lead over extended periods of time have experienced behavioral and cognitive effects. They’re more prone to juvenile delinquency and commit crimes more frequently. Exposure can also cause various physical ailments and long-term conditions.

Older houses are more likely to have lead substances present because lead was used in paint until 1978. Chips from this paint can be ingested or ground into dust, which is more likely to be eaten or breathed in. This happens when children play on the ground or put things into their mouths. Lead can also be found in soil, water and some products made in other countries.

Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County Director Tom Hut said, often times, these are residential properties that are rented out in low-income areas. Some impacted houses in the area are located near Grafton Hill, the Oregon District and Southern Dayton View.

The county submitted its plan of action for non-compliant houses to the Ohio Department of Health, which Amato said is still under review.

Hut said the cases are referred to county from the Ohio Department of Health after a child is tested for lead. The county currently has one licensed professional to handle lead poisoning investigations.

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“All lead tests are reported to the Ohio Department of Health, so whenever there’s a child with a blood lead level greater than 10, that case is then referred to us,” he said. “At that point, we make efforts to contact the parent or guardian to initiate a lead investigation. That investigation includes administering a questionnaire to determine possible lead exposures and how long the child has been living in the home.”

Property owners are given roughly a year to fix the issues within the house before being placed on the “non-compliant” list. Once it’s placed on that list, residents are no longer allowed to live there and the county places signs stating it has the property has lead hazards.

However, Hut said landlords will often just tear the signs down and move in an often unknowing tenant. The state might soon crack down on how many times local health officials try to contact parents, and property owners, who are responsible for the well-being of a child.

The state might modify the lead investigators manual to require the local department to make more of an effort to reach out to the property or parent. Local officials say sometimes it’s nearly impossible to reach some impoverished residents — who often live a transient life and change phone numbers frequently.

The Center for Disease Control has determined there is no safe amount of lead that can be in the blood system. However, the center determines any child with more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood is considered concerning.

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In 2015, approximately 156,135 children under 72 months of age were tested for lead poisoning — and about 1,215 had high blood lead levels. In Butler County, 22 children were confirmed to have 10 or less micrograms of lead per deciliter. Montgomery County listed 20 children.

Clark County ranks “very high” in lead poisoning cases, according to Cynthia Wingert, lead nurse case manager for Clark County Combined Health District. The county had at least 27 confirmed cases of blood lead levels at least 10 in 2015.

Wingert told this news organization that the highest blood lead level she’s seen was back in 2010, when a patient’s lead test came back positive for 46 micrograms per deciliter of blood — more than four times the initial amount considered high for lead poisoning.

The health district was graciously given a lead analyzer so that lead tests could be performed on-site and able to take out into the communities,” she said. “The analyzer uses just a small amount of blood from the finger and will produce the result in 3 minutes.”

However, the problem is most kids aren’t being tested for lead at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be tested at age one and again at age two, but only a fraction are ever tested.

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“Comparing that to census data and the number of children in that age range, I’d say we’re well below a suitable number of children being screened for lead poisoning,” Hut said.

All children living in high-risk zip codes, like Clark and Butler counties, must be tested at ages 1 and 2, and it’s also required by the State of Ohio that all children on Medicaid or government insurances be tested at the same ages.

Approximately 500,000 children under the age of 5 have more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter in their blood, according to the CDC, and the issue disproportionately impacts impoverished and minority communities.

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A 2016 study from the Journal of Pediatrics found that 7 percent of the nation’s highest blood lead levels were found in Ohio, and exposures were linked to correlation between housing, poverty income ratio and health plan enrollments.

“We have a long way to go, both in terms of contaminated water and residual lead-based paint, to reduce disparities that put some of our children at disproportionate risk of exposure to lead,” said Harvey Kaufman, senior medical director of Quest Diagnostics and study author.

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