By Olivia Morley
Legislation signed into law this past week provides stricter guidelines for detecting lead poisoning in young children in Georgia.
During this past session, state Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, sponsored a bill that lowered the allowable lead poisoning levels in children from 20 deciliters to 3.5 deciliters. The level is now consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey approached Dempsey about this issue several years ago. In response, Dempsey organized a research and study committee to learn more about lead poisoning in children and where lead can often be found in homes.
The committee quickly learned that lead can come from a variety of places, such as antiques and even coating on artificial Christmas trees. Lead exposure can also come from different jobs and careers, including those who work with batteries and auto parts.
However, lead is mostly found in paint and soldering on pipes in older structures and homes that were built before 1975, Tim Allee said.
Allee serves as the acting environmental health director for Northwest Georgia DPH.
The people most at risk for lead poisoning are children under 6 years of age, children living at or below the federal poverty level, pregnant women and those who live in older housing. Often, there are no obvious symptoms of lead exposure.
“Just a little paint chip can make such a difference in a child’s early developmental stages,” Dempsey said. According to the CDC, lead poisoning can lead to a wide range of brain development issues in young children, including speech problems and learning disabilities, and can even cause seizures and convulsions at higher lead levels. Physicians usually perform blood testing to detect lead during check-ups in early childhood. Discovering lead poisoning levels soon in early childhood development can help doctors direct parents and guardians to the correct resources and follow up actions.
In addition to this, the legislation also provides funding for every Georgia Department of Health District to hire their own lead inspector for structures and households that might have a high concentration of lead. “What’s great about this legislation is we’re not just talking about doing something, but providing the actual resources to do it,” Dempsey said.
Allee said they’re waiting on final approval before they post the job opening on the DPH website. He expects the new person to start sometime this summer after they go through training.
To learn more about lead poisoning and preventing exposure, go to the DPH website and look under Environmental Health and Healthy Homes and Lead.