‘Lead it Go’ provides parents & caregivers with supportive educational tools to address negative effects of toxic lead exposure
Submitted by the Erie County Department of Health
For the parents of children with an elevated blood lead level, the future can seem uncertain. Knowing that a child has been exposed to lead – which is a neurotoxic poison – can raise questions about how best to reduce the risk of harmful developmental delays that lead can cause, especially in very young children.
With these questions in mind, the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) and Beyond Boundaries offer a free, voluntary program to address the negative effects of toxic lead exposure in Erie County children from birth to age three years. The ECDOH division of environmental health’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program can refer children with an elevated blood lead level (EBLL) to the “Lead it Go” program, before potential developmental delays appear.
The only eligibility criteria for the “Lead it Go” program is to be under age 3, and have an elevated blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter. A child does not need to demonstrate any delays in development to qualify.
Approximately 400 children in Erie County are eligible for this service each year. All services are free to families with eligible children. Families can receive up to a year of “Lead it Go” services, and may transition into early intervention if eligible.
“Lead It Go” focuses on families with children under age 3 years who have an EBLL, or 5 micrograms or more per deciliter. Working with each family’s unique needs, Beyond Boundaries provides a monthly visit from occupational therapists, special educators and nutritionists who give parents and caregivers training, tools and enrichment activities to use with their children on a daily basis. This “training the parent” model allows those lessons to be reinforced constantly in the home. Visits take place at the family’s home or at a community site, depending on the parent’s preference. Interpretation services for families who speak a language other than English are available.
“One of the potential effects of lead poisoning can be learning difficulties that appear when a child is old enough to attend school,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Early supportive services may help with a child’s future growth, development and educational outcomes, and that is why we are glad to offer ‘Lead it Go’ to families in our county.”
Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin said, “I am excited to support Erie County’s ‘Lead it Go’ program, which developed out of my unanimously approved 2018 resolution that called on Erie County to provide more educational services for children with lower blood lead levels to address the lead hazard in our community.
“Our aging housing stock means that many children are being exposed to lead particles on a daily basis, which can have lasting, negative impacts on their entire lives. I have worked diligently and intently to get this issue brought to the forefront in Erie County. After much work and dialogue with community activists, medical professionals and ECDOH, my colleagues and I found an acceptable way to move this pilot program forward in 2020. We are committed to addressing the devastating effects of lead poisoning in Erie County, and I am grateful for the work of the lead safe task force for continuing to advocate for the children and families who desperately need their help.”
“Lead it Go” differs from the early intervention services, which are also provided to eligible children at no cost. The early intervention program provides services to children with a diagnosed disability or developmental delay determined through a multidisciplinary evaluation completed by contracted evaluation agencies.
“With ‘Lead it Go,’ we partner with families and support caregivers to be the best teacher for their child,” said Mary Frances Bayer, LMSW, co-owner of Beyond Boundaries. “Services include speech and language pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, early education and nutrition, and age-appropriate books and toys for each child are provided. This is a program that puts families in control to promote and monitor their child’s development. Our work addresses the negative effects of lead poisoning with three practical strategies: developmental play interventions, nutrition education and parent support.”
ECDOH stated, “In New York state, a blood lead level test – which involves a tiny skin prick to gather a small drop of blood – is required at age 1 and age 2. This test may be done at any time, especially if there is a known lead exposure. However, these tests are not always performed as recommended.”
Burstein said, “Lead poisoning is irreversible, but parents do not need to wait until they see developmental delays before they take action. Once that poisoning is discovered, interventions can have a meaningful impact, with tools to compensate and adjust, and let children reach their full potential. Parents know their children the best; don’t wait until you think something is wrong before reaching out for support. Talk to your pediatrician about lead screening at age 1 and 2, or when a lead exposure is known or suspected.”
The department quoted a teacher as saying, “Families … find comfort in having someone they can ask questions of, and receive feedback on strategies that will help their child meet developmental milestones. They enjoy learning how everyday experiences can impact development. They like learning what signs to look for and what resources are available if they need more support.”
ECDOH noted these additional precautions to avoid exposing children to lead include:
√ Test your home for lead: If your home was built before 1978, call the division of environmental health (716-961-6800) for information about home lead testing. If you do not know the age of your home, assume it may contain lead. Homes built before 1978 in the Northeast are most likely to have lead paint. Renters can ask the landlord about lead before signing a lease. Home buyers should include lead testing as part of the home inspection.
√ Learn about safe ways to make repairs/renovations. Call the division of environmental health (716-961-6800) for information about lead-safe training classes for free do-it-yourself home owners. Be sure to get lead-safe training or use a certified contractor, as any home renovation project that disturbs lead-based paint can create a hazard for your family. If work is not done safely, you and your child can be harmed by increased exposure to lead dust. Always keep your child away from renovation areas until everything is cleaned up.
√ Keep children away from old windows, old porches, and areas with chipping or peeling paint. Cover those areas with duct tape or contact paper until it can be safely renovated. If you rent your home, inform your landlord about any peeling or chipping paint. Landlords are legally required to repair lead problems on their property.
√ Pregnant women should consider asking about lead testing during prenatal care visits.
√ Lead may be present in soil. Do not allow your child to play in the bare dirt next to your older home.
√ Cover bare soil/earth by planting grass or by using mulch or wood chips to cover the dirt.
√ Lead is often present in dust, so it is important to clean your home regularly. Wipe down floors and other level surfaces with a damp mop or sponge.
√ Taking shoes off at the door can help reduce tracking in dirt and dust.
√ Teach your children to wash their hands often, especially before eating.
√ Wash pacifiers and toys regularly.
√ If your work or hobbies involve exposure to lead, change your clothes and shoes and shower when finished. Keep your clothes at work, or wash your work clothes separately as soon as possible to avoid contamination of other laundry. It is particularly important for workers using lead to prevent take-home exposure to young children and pregnant women.
√ Eat healthy: Give your child a well-balanced diet that includes breakfast and food high in calcium and iron. A good diet can help your child absorb less lead.
√ Flush the taps! Run the cold water for one to two minutes before using it in the morning and anytime it has not been used for six or more hours. Always start with cold water for mixing formula, drinking or cooking. In all situations, drink or cook only with water that comes out of the tap cold. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can contain much higher levels of lead. Boiling this water will not reduce the amount of lead in your water.
√ Test your tap water for lead. In Erie County, lead paint chips and dust are the main sources of lead exposure. If you suspect lead in drinking water, ask your water provider whether your water contains lead. For homes served by public water systems, data on lead in tap water may be available on the internet from your local water authority. To test your tap water: in Buffalo, call 311; the New York State Department of Health offers a free lead testing pilot program (518-402-7650).
ECDOH cited Stingone JA, Sedlar S, Lim S, McVeigh KH. Receipt of Early Intervention Services Before Age 3 Years and Performance on Third-Grade Standardized Tests Among Children Exposed to Lead. JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 07, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0008
√ Erie County Department of Health lead poisoning prevention programs: www.erie.gov/lead
√ Beyond Boundaries, “Lead It Go”: https://www.beyondboundariestherapy.org/lead-it-go
√ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead poisoning: www.cdc.gov/lead