Lead Risk and Exposure: Measures and Data
Why is lead a concern?Lead is toxic to the brain and causes learning and behavior problems in children that can last a lifetime (Health of Washington State, 2003). The most prevalent environmental lead exposure source is lead-based paint. Additional sources include: traditional folk remedies, some Mexican pottery, various imported candies, possible take-home exposure from parent’s work or hobbies, candles, imported food tins, and lead or brass in plumbing fixtures or pipes. In Washington, large areas of land were polluted with lead and arsenic from smelters and lead-arsenate pesticides from the early to mid 1900s. Soil in several counties may still be contaminated.
How is it tracked?In Washington, blood lead testing is encouraged for children at high risk of lead exposure. Adults who work in jobs that may expose them to lead should also be tested for lead regularly. Laboratories must report all results of blood lead tests to the Washington State Department of Health. The Department of Health tracks lead screening data for children under 15 years of age. The Department of Labor & Industries tracks lead screening data for people age 15 years and older.
What is being done?Reducing childhood lead exposure is a key public health strategy to help children reach their full potential. The Washington State Department of Health is working to protect children from lead exposure by conducting a primary prevention education campaign, encouraging testing of high-risk children, and working with families whose children have been exposed to significant amounts of lead. Also, the Departments of Health and Ecology met with other stakeholders to develop recommendations for reducing exposure to lead—both in people and the environment. The resulting Chemical Action Plan (CAP) for lead is available online. These recommendations are for agencies and the legislature to consider in order to improve public and environmental health.