83% of Nebraska kids have detectable lead levels, but unprecedented help is coming

83% of Nebraska kids have detectable lead levels, but unprecedented help is coming

Friday, October 28, 2022

 By: Matt ChibeMatthew Mittlieder

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — A recent study shows that more than half of all children in the United States have detectable lead levels in their blood, and Nebraska is even worse.

According to research shared by the American Journal of Diseases of Children, 83% of kids statewide have detectable levels.  That’s the highest rate in the country, according to all of the data.

Even a small concentration of lead can affect a child’s long-term development.

Bruce Dvorak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said lead can come from paint and paint chips, old toys, finishings on older furniture, and water.

He says lead is usually found in water from homes built before the 1950s, and there have been efforts over the past 40 years to remove it from pipes and other sources in homes and businesses.

“You may want to start figuring out, is there dust? And use home tests to identify if some of the of dust is coming from sources of lead,” Dvorak said. “Maybe it’s old windows that create dust from lead paint next to the window. Or might there be paint chips falling off someplace that might be leading to exposure?”

To determine if there’s lead in your water, Dvorak says you can contact your utility to have it tested.

If you’re on a private water supply, he says there are testing labs where you can send water samples to have them tested.

He also says if there’s lead in your water supply, you should briefly run the water in your house before using it for cooking or drinking.

“Take a shower, do your laundry, run your dishwasher before you get water off your tap,” Dvorak said. “The lead’s coming in from dissolving from plumbing fixtures, while it sits, often overnight, in your plumbing lines. So having fresh water coming in will make it so one gets very little lead coming in that way.”

Just this week, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its first-ever agencywide strategy to reduce exposures and disparities nationwide.

There will be a major focus on increasing screenings in children.  The strategy also includes training more people for careers that inspect and eliminate lead-based threats, in addition to promoting awareness and getting public feedback on future projects.

EPA officials say they’ve received unprecedented resources from President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law to make this all happen.

$15 billion is dedicated to replacing lead pipes and removing lead from soil.  Another $25 million is set aside for small and disadvantaged communities, which will help develop technology that identifies the dangerous element.

But experts say there are steps all of us can take right now to protect our little ones.

“We know that if we address the housing stock, repaint the windowsills and things like that and reduce the lead exposure, wet mop more in the home, things like that, we can eliminate or at least reduce some of those exposures for kids and help improve their outcomes,” said Dr. Roopa Thakur with the Cleveland Clinic.

The medical center says there are some treatment options available for lead poisoning, but it stresses that a number of long-term symptoms cannot be cured.

“One important step is to get a blood test, particularly for children,” Dvorak said. “I raised my children in an older home, and we had when they were young, annual blood tests to check them for lead, just to be sure we weren’t accidentally exposing them to lead.”