Kiwanis Club of West Erie County

Number one problem
Childhood lead poisoning is the number one environmental health risk facing children in industrialized countries today. In the United States, more than three million children age six and younger-- that's one out of every six children in that age group--has toxic levels of lead in their bodies. Similar proportions of children are affected in other countries, from Germany to Australia, that have used lead in industry and consumer products. Lead poisoning affects families from every socioeconomic level, though the problem tends to be worse in neighborhoods where buildings are not well cared for.

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that interferes with the development and functioning of almost all body organs, particularly the kidneys, red blood cells, and central nervous system. In young children, lead retards the development of the central nervous system and brain. High levels of lead exposure can result in coma, convulsions, and death.

At low levels, lead can cause reduced IQ, reading and learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and behavioral problems. As a result, childhood lead poisoning is associated with lower educational achievement, higher rates of high school drop-out and increased behavioral problems. In the long run, children who are lead poisoned may be less likely to become positive contributors to our communities and our economy.

The overwhelming cause of lead poisoning in children is lead-based paint in homes. In the United States, lead was banned in residential paint in 1978. About half of all older homes in the U.S. contain some leaded paint and approximately two to three million homes have lead-based paint that is peeling or flaking, an immediate hazard to children.

Invisible lead dust on household surfaces is just as hazardous to children as paint chips. Most children are lead poisoned today through the ingestion of leaded household dust. This dust can be created by friction--the opening of windows or the rubbing of a tight door. Children are also being poisoned by home renovation projects that generate lead dust. Many home owners are not aware of the hazards of lead removal and unknowingly poison their children.

[ Preventing lead poisoning ]
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable. All it requires is:

  • Awareness of the risk of lead poisoning and particularly the danger in home renovations.
  • Identification of children who are at risk or who are already poisoned.
  • Removal and reduction of the lead hazards in homes, child care centers, and schools.
  • Kiwanis clubs can help eliminate lead poisoning by working in any of these areas.

Clubs may be able to coordinate their activities with the local health department. In areas where lead poisoning is not yet identified as a priority, clubs can spearhead a coalition with local pediatricians, children's hospitals, contracting firms, home builders, and schools.

[ Raising awareness ]
The first challenge of an awareness campaign is to alert the community to the problem: childhood lead poisoning is a threat to all children under the age of six.

Misconceptions about lead poisoning prevent action. Many people think the problem of lead poisoning was solved when lead was taken out of paint and gasoline. Others believe that a few youngsters living in extreme poverty get lead poisoning when they eat chips of peeling paint. The truth is that lead poisoning will continue to threaten children as long as lead is present in our environment and homes.

Many people fixing up their homes unknowingly place themselves and their families at risk of lead poisoning. Improper removal of lead-based paint creates leaded dust which is hazardous both to the worker and the family. Young children and pregnant women are particularly at risk. Alerting the public to this risk is one of the best methods of preventing childhood lead poisoning.

The public also should learn about other possible sources of lead poisoning: in soil around lead-painted homes, in drinking water, in some enameled dishes and crystal, and hobbies.

Kiwanis clubs could play a key role in prevention by launching a comprehensive public education campaign. It should include every possible method of spreading the word.

The media--Press articles, newspaper advertisements, radio public service announcements, television and radio interviews.

Special events--Town meetings, community forums, fairs, social club meetings, professional organization meetings.

Printed materials--Brochures, pamphlets, flyers, posters.

Try to identify the places in your community where your target audience might go or meet. For example, people involved in home repair will go to the hardware store or lumber yard. Most pregnant women will be receiving care from an obstetrician or a clinic. Target your activities to these places.

[ Identifying lead poisoning ]
Early identification of lead poisoning can ensure proper medical treatment and reduce the long-term threat to a child's development. A simple blood test is all that is needed. All children should be tested by their first birthday and then at least once a year until age seven.

Nine out of ten children are never tested for lead poisoning. This means many of the children affected are never identified. Early identification of children with lead poisoning can ensure proper medical and environmental follow-up and can prevent more serious damage due to continued lead exposure.

A community-wide screening fair would be an important step toward identifying all the children with lead poisoning in the community. The screening could also serve as a way to raise awareness about the problem, the risk of renovation, and the need to clean up the lead in a child's environment. Lead screening could be incorporated into a larger health screening effort, such as a health fair or immunization drive, or it can be organized on its own. In either situation, a club can help in several ways.

[ Professional recruitment ]
A club should find trained medical professionals who would be willing to volunteer their time to do the screening. It will be important to arrange for medical follow-up for any children identified with high levels of lead. Locate private pediatricians, clinics and hospitals that provide care to lead-poisoned children. The club may also offer to pay for follow-up treatment if no other resource is available.

In some areas, lead poisoning prevention activities will be coordinated by the local or state health department or a local children's hospital. Clubs interested in screening should first contact the health department and hospital to identify current programs and resources and to discuss options for screening: locations, events, and so forth.

However, the local health department may not have established any program or be interested in the project. Some health departments may believe that lead poisoning is not a problem in their communities. The only way to know if there is a problem is through screening children, and a club can organize that screening.

[ Site selection ]
The best sites are centrally located, offer easy access, and draw young children and their parents. Shopping centers, toy stores, churches, museums and fast food restaurants are possibilities. So are child care centers, pre-schools, Head Start Programs, and playgrounds. Contact the director or manager of a few possible sites and discuss the possibility of a screening.

[ Joint projects ]
Reaching all children at risk may require some special planning to draw children. A screening effort can be coordinated with a health fair, immunization drive, or some other special event. Incorporating lead screening may be cost effective and help increase participation.

[ Getting the lead out ]
Ultimately, preventing childhood lead poisoning may require removing the lead in a child's environment. This is the best way to prevent lead poisoning, and it is vital for children who are already poisoned. Removing lead-based paint, called abatement, can be hazardous and requires specialized training and safety precautions. Many localities, however, do not have the trained work force, materials, or resources to safely and properly identify and remove lead-based paint. Kiwanis clubs can help build this capacity in a number of ways.


[ Providing resources ]
The cost of properly removing lead-based paint can be prohibitive. Many families and small-scale property owners cannot afford this expense. If the lead is not properly removed, lead poisoned children will be continuously exposed and poisoned anew.

Providing Loans/Grants--A club can help by developing a revolving loan fund to finance lead-based paint abatement or by guaranteeing a loan made from a local bank.

Purchasing Equipment--The best way to check for lead-based paint in a building is to bring in a portable X-ray fluorescence machine. Safe clean-up involves a HEPA vacuum (High Efficiency Particulate Air vacuum). These pieces of equipment cost more than $1,000 each.

Purchasing Materials--Windows, doors, and woodwork often need to be replaced. Walls need to be paneled or covered.

Providing Temporary Shelter-- The best time to abate a home is when it is unoccupied. All occupants should be out of the house, but it is particularly important for pregnant women and children. A club could provide a lead-safe home for families who need to be temporarily relocated.

Training Workers--Improperly conducted abatement can also create a danger to the worker and the family. Lead is a hazardous substance, and people working with it must be trained in safety techniques to protect their own health. A club could send members of the community (including club members) to a training center for lead-based paint abatement. To learn more about these training centers, contact the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning (address and phone below).


[ Resources ]
The organizations listed below offer materials that may assist a club in developing a lead-poisoning prevention program.

Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning
600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 543-1147

The Alliance staff offers technical assistance and will help clubs find local contacts who can offer expert advice for a local prevention program. The Alliance also provides materials on request. These include: Guide to State Lead Screening Laws, Resource Guide for Financing, Lead-Based Paint Cleanup, and copies of fact-filled articles from newspapers, magazines, and other organizations.

Lead Institute of San Francisco
P.O. Box 591244
San Francisco, CA 94118
(800) 532-3837 orders only
(415) 885-4645 information

Offers a free pamphlet on lead poisoning and sells testing kits and a book on lead abatement ($20).

National Lead Information Center/Hotline
1019 19th Street NW
Suite 401
Washington, DC 20036-5105
(202) 293-2270
(800) LEAD-FYI

Offers a variety of brochures and fact sheets aimed at parents, explaining the dangers of lead poisoning, the importance of testing children, and safe home renovations. Also provides a list of state contacts.

National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse
38th and R Streets NW
Washington, DC 20057
(202) 625-8410
(703) 821-8955 ext. 254

Offers a book titled Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, a state-by-state listing of experts and programs on lead screenings, medical treatment, paint testing, home inspection, and abatement. One copy free on request.

Films Incorporated Video
5547 N. Ravenswood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640
(800) 323-4222 ext. 43

Offers a videotape and study guide titled Kids and Lead Hazards: What Every Family Should Know. Developed by Consumers Reports Television and Connecticut Public Television. Cost: $29.95 (includes shipping and handling).


[ Do-it-yourself testing kits ]
Lead paint and coatings
Kits designed to test for lead paint only indicate whether lead is present in the paint and do not indicate the amount of lead. Low levels of lead detected by a laboratory often aren't detected by these kits.

Frandon Lead Alert
P.O. Box 300321
Seattle, WA 98103
(800) 359-9000
Cost: $29.95 plus $3.50 shipping/handling

Lead Check Swabs
P.O. Box 1210
Framingham, MA 01701
(800) 262-LEAD
Cost: $17.00 for an 8-pack; $28.45 for a 16-pack, good for an average house; $68.50 for a 48-pack

Lead in water
Applied Technical Services, Inc.
Environmental Science Division
1190 Atlanta Industrial Drive
Marietta, GA 30066
(404) 423-1400
Cost: $24.95 for kit

National Testing Laboratories
151 Wilson Mills Road
Cleveland, OH 44143
(800) 458-3330
Cost: $29

Suburban Water Testing
4600 Kutztown Road
Temple, PA 19560
(800) 433-6595
Cost: $19

Water Test Corporation
33 South Commercial Street
Manchester, NH 03101
(800) 426-8378

Cost: $25

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[ Additional resources ]
A reproducible brochure titled "Get the Lead Out" appears in the printed version of this service bulletin. The printed bulletin also includes a sample press release, radio PSAs, a sample letter to parents, and a sample poster. The printed bulletin can be ordered by calling 317-875-8755 ext. 214.

If you have any questions about this bulletin or would like a hard copy, please contact:

Program Development Department
Kiwanis International
3636 Woodview Trace
Indianapolis, IN 46268-3196
317/875-8755, ext. 214
800/549-2647 (North America only)

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