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Nearly all Virginia residents are at risk of lead exposure — These three tips can keep kids safe

Lead paint flakes and cracks on the spindles of a porch on a house in Rhode Island.
Stew Milne
Lead paint flakes and cracks on the spindles of a porch on a house.

The EPA recently awarded Virginia $46 million for towns and cities to replace lead water lines. The funding is from the 2021 infrastructure bill; according to Senator Mark Warner, the state Department of Health Office of Drinking Water will be awarding those funds to communities, though it’s not clear at this time how long the process will take. Some towns, like Pulaski, are advising residents to filter their water until lines can be replaced.

Even if every lead water line in the state were replaced, most people in Virginia would still be at risk of lead exposure because many older homes also contain lead paint. Lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among children. It can cause fatigue, hyperactivity, learning disorders, memory loss, irritability and anxiety. In very high levels it causes anemia, kidney dysfunction, fertility issues, even death.

“One thing with lead is if it goes unabated for a long period of time it can cause lifetime challenges for those children,” said Jason Stinnett, Environmental Health Specialist for the New River Health District.

“It’s important to be the advocate for your child and to be aware of their surroundings.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, the main cause of lead poisoning in children is by ingesting paint in buildings that were built before 1978. Especially if the paint is flaking or chipping. Here are some ways the CDC recommends to keep children safe:

  1. If your house was built before 1978 and you have paint that is flaking or chipping, contact a certified lead professional to help contain and possibly remove the paint.
  2. Parents can reduce lead dust by regularly mopping surfaces, or using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  3. Lead also gets into homes when people go hunting, make jewelry, or work on car batteries. If you do any hobbies that contain lead, take off your shoes and change your clothes before you go inside your house.

Children under six are the most vulnerable. “Once they get mobile and they start crawling around on the floor, they can get dust on their hands, and then they [suck] on their thumbs, or on their favorite playtoys,” Stinnett said.
Pediatricians often check lead levels in children when they turn 12 months, but Stinnett said some don’t unless a parent asks for the test. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your pediatrician and ask those questions about getting tested.”

If your child does have elevated levels of lead, the local health department can help determine where the exposure is coming from. If you have an older home, and the paint is chipping or flaking, the EPA recommends taking immediate attention. Contact a lead certified specialist for help, and try not to sand or remodel surfaces that may contain lead paint, without a plan for removing the dust.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.