AUGUSTA, Maine — In recognition of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, health officials from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday they will provide a free home lead dust test kit to the parents of all children born in Maine in 2010. National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week runs from Oct. 23 to 29.
The offers for free tests come with an educational brochure that is being mailed to more than 11,000 families as part of Maine’s effort to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
“The goal of the mailing is to prevent lead poisoning. The test kits we are offering can help parents find out if their home has a lead dust problem,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC. “Then they can address any problems and keep their children safe from lead.”
Exposure to dust from lead paint used in homes built before 1950 is the most common way children are poisoned by lead in Maine. Most often, lead dust settles on windowsills, floors, furnishings and other surfaces. Lead paint often is found in homes built before 1950 and sometimes in homes built before 1978. Lead paint poisoning can cause behavior problems, learning disabilities, speech and language delays and lowered intelligence.
Children typically are tested for elevated lead in their blood when they are 1, 2 and 3 years old, said state toxicologist Andrew Smith. “That’s the age when everything is hand-to-mouth and toy-to-mouth,” he said. Pregnant women and their developing fetuses also are at risk, he said, because mothers-to-be can absorb more lead into their bloodstreams due to metabolic and hormonal changes. That’s why women of child-bearing age should protect themselves against lead dust, even if they’re not pregnant, he said.
This is the second year the free lead test kits have been available. The kits are purchased with money from the state’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund, which collects fees from paint manufacturers and distributors.
Last year, more than 300 kits were mailed to the families of children born in 2008 and 2009. About a quarter of those families identified lead dust problems in their homes and received education to properly address the problems.
“We hope to continue this and do it each year for a new [group] of 1-year-olds,” Smith said.
Parents who discover they have lead paint in their homes can take a number of steps to keep their children safe, such as cleaning surfaces frequently with a wet cloth or mop and painting over battered painted surfaces.
“We hope parents who live in older homes will take advantage of the offer for a free lead dust test kit, especially if they live in a house or apartment built before 1950,” said Pinette.
For more information, visit www.maine.gov/healthyhomes.