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Study finds elevated lead levels have biggest impact on Black children, 3 and 4-year-olds in Peoria County

Carey Panier and Tracy Terlinde from the Peoria City/County Health Department recommend getting children screened if they have potentially been exposed to lead.
Camryn Cutinello
Carey Panier, left, and Tracy Terlinde from the Peoria City/County Health Department recommend getting children screened if they have potentially been exposed to lead.

A study from the Peoria City/County Health Department found Black children had a disproportionately elevated blood lead levels compared with their white peers.

The department tested the blood of 4,184 children in Peoria County aged 1-7 and found that 2.9% have elevated lead levels.

Carey Panier, the director of Environmental Health at the Peoria City/County Health Department, said the test focused on younger children because they're at higher risk of exposure of lead dust and flakes from friction surfaces like old windows and doors.

“Children under six, not only do they passively absorb it more readily, they're also on the floor a lot, which is where we might find some of the lead dust," Panier said. "And especially the smaller children have that hand and mouth activities to where they're getting maybe more exposure.”

She said most of the lead exposure in Peoria comes from lead paint that can still be found in homes built before a 1978 ban. She said lead paint is not always a hazard, but if it’s chipping or peeling, it becomes one.

The study also found that 3 and 4-year-olds had the highest percentages of elevated lead levels in their blood.

Peoria City County Health Department epidemiologist Tracy Terlinde said the racial disparity seen in the report is partially caused by historical policies such as redlining.

Black children had an elevated blood lead rate seven times higher than white children.

“Historical policies such as Federal Home Ownership and redlining have resulted in communities of color and low income households being disproportionately exposed to lead and other environmental health hazards,” Terlinde said.

The stdy also found that Hispanic children had an elevated blood level rate 1.8 times higher than non-Hispanic children. Other non-Hispanic races had a rate of 6.3 times higher than white children.

Panier said some parts of Peoria have older housing stock, making them higher risk areas since they're more likely to have lead paint. The county uses funding from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to remove lead paint in some homes.

Lead also can be found in pipes, pottery and children’s toys, especially if they are made outside of the United States.

“Sometimes over the years, especially [since] we have a high mineral content in our water, sometimes that coats the pipes and then kind of reduces that hazard," Panier said of lead pipes. "But also, simply running the water for a few minutes clears out what might have been stagnant in the pipes.”

Water filters also can limit exposure from lead pipes.

The study will be conducted annually. Panier said it's essential to catch elevated blood lead levels while children are still young to prevent lead poisoning.

Terlinde said no amount of lead in the body is good, but lead poisoning can have serious long-term health impacts.

“Any amount of lead in the body can limit a child's development,” Terlinde said. “Very high levels of lead can lead to seizures, coma or death, and may require treatment to lower levels...[t]here is no cure for lead poisoning, and damage to the body is permanent.”

Terlinde said lead poisoning also can cause issues with learning, behavior, and impulse control.

“Research shows there's a positive correlation between communities with elevated lead levels and high rate crimes,” she said. “The effects on cognitive and behavioral development and children with high blood levels are linked to committing violent crimes, and this is due to an increase in impulsive actions, social aggression, as well as the possibility of Attention Deficit Disorder.”

There are preventative measures that can be taken, including checking your home for chipping or peeling paint, and screening tests for lead. Washing hands before eating is essential for kids, especially after playing outside. Rainfall can cause lead paint to fall off a surface and absorb into the soil.

People with homes built before 1978 should also hire a licensed contractor for renovations to prevent exposure to lead paint.

Terlinde said knowing the symptoms of lead poisoning is important, too.

“Some of the symptoms of lead poisoning can be stomach aches, irritability, sleeping problems, weight loss, vomiting, hyperactivity, excessive tiredness, constipation, poor appetite and dizziness,” she said.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or local health department.

The health department also can be called to help test and manage chipped or peeling paint in homes built before 1978. People who are concerned they or their children have been exposed to lead can get screened at the health department, or Peoria's Women, Infants and Children nutritional program.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.