Childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts expand in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) — Wisconsin’s lead policy advisor, Brian Weaver, Monday highlighted the state’s expanding efforts to prevent childhood lead poisoning, noting that many of the same families living in older homes with lead hazards are also among the populations being hardest hit by COVID-19.

Childhood lead poisoning can cause delays in growth, behavior and create learning challenges. In severe cases, lead poisoning can result in seizures, coma, and death. Lead poisoning occurs when children swallow lead paint dust, often found in homes built before 1978, and can also be caused by lead-contaminated drinking water from lead service lines or lead in plumbing fixtures.

“Many families living in homes with lead hazards already face multiple health inequities,” said Weaver. “COVID-19 creates additional challenges for these families, who are now spending more time at home and have fewer options for blood lead testing due to limited services at some clinics. Coordination of statewide lead poisoning prevention efforts, which include multiple state agencies and partners, is more urgent than ever to protect children from this 100% preventable condition. No child should have their health and future harmed by lead poisoning.”

Weaver was named Wisconsin’s lead policy advisor in February after Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order to focus attention on lead poisoning as a critical public health issue in Wisconsin, and directed state agencies to work together on prevention.

Statewide efforts to prevent lead poisoning include abating lead hazards and addressing other structural issues in the homes of 125 Wisconsin residents. This work, funded by a recent award from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will be carried out in collaboration with a range of partners, including:

  • Winnebago County Health Department
  • City of Oshkosh-Community Development Division
  • Community Services – Social Development Commission (SDC)  in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties
  • Grant County Health Department Consortium
  • Crawford County Health Department
  • Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program

In addition, the health agency plans to increase the number of children under age six who are tested for lead poisoning by working closely with the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, other state programs, public health departments, and health care providers.

Other efforts include:

  • Coordinating the statewide DHS Lead-Safe Homes program to abate lead hazards in homes where a Medicaid- or BadgerCare Plus-eligible child or pregnant woman resides or visits regularly, providing more than $3 million to local Wisconsin agencies to carry out residential lead hazard abatement activities.
  • Increasing the number of professionals trained and certified to remove lead hazards from homes by providing training scholarships for new residential contract workers, and reaching out to potential construction workers to bring them into the lead abatement field.
  • Addressing lead hazards in both in-home and child care facilities in underserved and low income communities under EPA’s Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) grant program.
  • Providing financial opportunities for window and siding manufacturers, housing supply stores and other Wisconsin businesses associated with housing projects.

The City of Milwaukee, and Kenosha and Racine counties will also provide lead abatement services to more than 500 homes, funded by two $4 million HUD grants.