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Live in an older home? Check for lead poisoning

Written by Teresa Boeckel/York Daily Record | Feb 4, 2016 3:38 AM
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Lead paint in older homes in York is a concern, and officials have been trying to address it for years.(Photo: Kate Penn, York Daily Record)

It's the lead paint in older housing in York that poses a risk to children

(York) -- While Flint, Mich. faces a crisis with lead in the water, some cities in Pennsylvania, including York, face a problem with lead poisoning because of paint in older homes.

In 2014, 12.41 percent of the 1,612 children in York had blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per decileter or greater, according to a report from the state Department of Health. That's the level at which public health actions are recommended, according to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A report from Vox.com says 18 cities in Pennsylvania -- including York and Lebanon -- have reported higher levels of lead exposure than Flint.

The problem in York isn't the water, said Jeff Hines, president and chief executive officer of the York Water Company. The lead level within houses most at risk is 2.5 parts per billion, which is well below the threshold of 15 parts per billion. He explained that some older homes still have lead pipes.

The problem in York -- and even in the county -- is with its older housing stock built before 1978, and officials have been trying to address the problem for decades.

Most of the children in York live in houses that were built before 1950 when lead paint was widely used, York Mayor Kim Bracey said in an email. Many children in the city have elevated blood levels.

"Lead paint and lead contaminated dust from deteriorating paint is the primary source of exposure as was determined from our experience and work," Bracey wrote.

Curious children will pick at peeling paint, for example, and put it in their mouth, said Matthew Howie, medical director for the Bureau of Health for the City of York.

The York Hospital Community Health Center tests all children for lead exposure because of the increased risk. Children with chronic exposure can have problems, such as a reduced IQ or problems with impulsivity, said Howie, who also is the medical director for the center.

Health officials also work to educate parents about limiting the exposure to lead paint, Howie said. Sometimes all it takes is a simple layer of latex paint.

"I see this as an ongoing issue," he said.

The city used to have a lead program, which allowed for in-home inspections to help pinpoint the source of lead, but the federal funding for that was cut a few years ago, Howie said.

Bracey said the topic of lead poisoning dominated much of the sessions during the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. last month. When she returned, she asked the city's Housing and Urban Development manager about the possibility of freeing up some funds to again support lead testing efforts.

The County of York has been aware of the problem, too, and it is looking to seek grants to develop a program to address it, said Dory Brannon, housing chief with the York County Planning Commission.

Removal of lead paint can be expensive, she said. The county has a home improvement program for homeowners who qualify, and testing is done for lead for homes that were built before 1978.

In a recent case, it was too costly to address the lead paint problem for one homeowner, she said.

Governor Tom Wolf's administration "takes the issue of lead exposure very seriously," and the governor will continue to work with state agencies to address lead exposure across the state, spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said in an email.

Tips for dealing with lead paint

Marilou Yingling, who is the coordinator of the city's lead and healthy homes programs, offers these tips for dealing with lead paint:

  • Check the condition of the paint inside and outside, including behind storm windows. If it is chipping, peeling or flaking, it needs to be corrected. Do not attempt to do the work yourself. Hire certified contractors who can test and correct the problem.
  • Wet clean windowsills and window wells. Lead dust and chips accumulate there.
  • Wet wash the floors two to three times a week.
  • Wash your child's hands and face often, especially before eating or sleeping. Wash bottles, pacifiers and sippy cups immediately if they have fallen on the floor or ground.

*This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record

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