Study: Lead exposure rate among children in Wisconsin is more than twice the national average

The study evaluated more than 1 million children under age 6 in all 50 states

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — Dr. Elizabeth Hansen, a pediatrician with Gundersen Health System, spoke about the long-term impacts of lead exposure on children.

“It can affect brain development,” she said. “Then long-term we see difficulties with learning and specifically with attention.”

Symptoms of lead poisoning include constipation and stomach pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, and a blue tinge around the gums, among other issues.

The CDC warns that even low levels of lead exposure in babies could affect behavior and could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in later years, according to a press release.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the rate of lead exposure in the blood of Wisconsin children under age 6 is 4.3%, while the lead exposure rate nationally for children in that group is 1.9%.

Hansen recommends that children get tested for any lead in their blood. The test involves a finger prick.

“Usually we recommend having kids at risk of lead exposure be screened at age 1 and then again at age 2,” Hansen said. “Or if we miss those ages we recommend we do it up until age 6.”

Lead paint has been illegal for consumer uses in the United States since 1978. Hansen mentioned that there are ways to keep kids safe, even if a house is very old.

Hansen said that if renovations are happening in an older home, children should be kept away from the project to stay clear of lead dust and other particles.

Hansen added that if a house has lead pipes, to let the water run on cool for 5 or 10 minutes to reduce exposure.

“That can help, too,” Hansen said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of homes built before 1940 have lead-based paint inside them.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student Patrick Lear, who has lived in Wisconsin since February 2021, said he’s concerned about lead exposure among youth.

“I feel like this is something we need to get to the bottom of,” he said.

Anyone in La Crosse County concerned about lead in their home can contact the La Crosse County Health Department at (608) 785-9872.

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