Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Public News Service
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is a heightened effort this week to inform Ohio families about the dangers of a silent poison. Because lead is invisible and the damage it causes is delayed, addressing lead poisoning is tricky.
A recent study found 5% of Ohio kids have elevated blood lead levels, which is more than double the national average.
Dr. Matthew Tien, a pediatrician at MetroHealthSystem and co-chair of the MetroHealthLead Coalition, said even low levels of lead in the body can cause problems with growth, behavior and learning.
“Studies that have been done show that the higher the lead level, the more dramatic effect it can have on lowering IQ,” Tien explained. “Obviously, the higher the lead level, the more terrifying. But finding even a level of ‘one’ is significant. There’s no known safe level of lead.”
Tien pointed out 40% of high-risk kids in Ohio do not get needed lead blood tests, and noted MetroHealth Hospital improved their rates dramatically in the past year by having children tested during medical appointments, instead of sending families to a lab.
During National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Ohioans are encouraged to have their homes and children tested for lead.
Timothy Johnson, policy associate for the Ohio Poverty Law Center and representative of the Ohio Lead Free Kids Coalition, said kids in Ohio have high levels of lead due to old housing and poverty. He explained two-thirds of houses in Ohio might contain lead.
“You will see issues like this concentrated in some urban centers, mostly in brown and Black neighborhoods that have seen historic neglect,” Johnson observed. “But it’s in our rural areas to win at Perry Heights, high rates there as well. So this is not just an issue that’s concentrated in one part of the state or the other. It’s statewide.”
The Ohio Lead Free Kids Coalition has created a nine-point action plan for Lead-Free Children by 2030. It includes helping homeowners eliminate lead hazards, researching new ways to protect kids from lead, and improving supports for those exposed to lead.
Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.