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Franklin Co. discusses lead poisoning education with Saranac Lake CSD Board of Education

August 10, 2017
By CHRIS KNIGHT - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Franklin County Public Health officials are asking local schools and physicians to do more to prevent lead poisoning in children.

The health department's Peg Cantwell and D.J. Fowler met with the Saranac Lake Central School District Board of Education on Wednesday, Aug. 2 to talk about their Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. It's designed to educate county residents about the hazards associated with lead, in order to prevent exposure to lead, particularly among those who are the most vulnerable, such as children and pregnant women.

"Our message is that no amount of lead is safe," Fowler said. "What we're trying to do is get the message out to schools that this is an important thing to think about, and we're trying to educate health professionals also."

The program operates under a state grant. Fowler said the state has "really ratcheted up" its education efforts in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where more than 100,000 residents were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water.

"Flint has really brought this to the forefront," Fowler said. "It's a positive thing."

In June 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that requires public school districts to test their drinking water for lead contamination. Tests in area schools last fall found water from some faucets and drinking fountains exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "action level" for lead.

"All our drinking fountains passed," Superintendent Diane Fox said Aug. 2. "The only problem we had was at Bloomingdale, where the sink was connected to the water fountain. Something odd was happening. We are in the process now of replacing our faucets and doing follow-up testing."

Lead issues also cropped up throughout Saranac Lake last year, when the state Department of Health cited the village for exceeding the "action level" for lead in its drinking water system, based on testing of a select group of homes around the village. Village officials blamed the violation on homeowners' own lead pipes or lead solder used to connect copper pipes. They've stressed that the village's water supply and pipes are not contaminated with lead.

While much of the focus in the news has been on lead contamination in water, most childhood lead poisoning occurs when children swallow or breathe in dust from old lead paint, according to the state Health Department. Children who live or spend a lot of time in buildings built before 1978 are considered to be at the highest risk for lead poisoning.

Under state Public Health Law, health care providers are required to perform a blood lead test for all children at age 1 and again at age 2. Physicians are also required to assess children 6 months to 6 years old for risk of lead exposure during annual well-child visits. Unfortunately, Fowler said, the testing rate in the county is about 50 percent, so they're trying to work with local doctors to raise awareness and get kids and pregnant women tested.

If a child is found to have a blood lead level between 5 and 9 micrograms per deciliter, Fowler said public health nurses will contact the child's parents and make an initial home visit.

"We talk to parents about running their water for a few minutes in the morning and not using hot water - when you want to heat it up, use cold water and heat that water up - and good nutrition," Fowler said. "Calcium blocks lead absorption, so parents should increase calcium-rich foods. We also bring in an environmental person who can look at the home and help abate any problems with lead."

Cantwell said some kids have no symptoms of lead poisoning while other kids can have headaches, stomach aches, insomnia or behavior issues.

"That's something we'd like you take into consideration is that kids who are having behavioral problems or difficulties, there could be an exposure to lead and you might not know it," she told the school board. "If people have real concerns about their child's behavior and they can't figure out what's going on, it's always a good idea to get a lead test."

School nurses and day care providers can play a key role in early identification of students who may have high blood lead levels, Fowler said. Before or within three months of enrolling a child who is between the ages of 1 and 6 years old, providers must try to obtain proof from the parent or guardian that the child has been tested for lead, according to Public Health Law.

The county has used the results of lead testing to great GIS maps of lead "hotspots" in each community. School board members looked over the maps with Fowler and Cantwell at the Aug. 2 meeting.

"We identified a neighborhood (in Malone) by doing this GIS, and it showed up very thick in one area," Cantwell explained, "so we sent direct door mailings to everyone in that neighborhood to have their kids tested and also to notify the landlords that it was a problem."

Cantwell said the maps, as they're updated year to year, can show a rise or fall in lead exposures and help the medical community and local officials identify issues in their areas.



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