Public Health District drafts ordinance to address high levels of lead exposure

Posted at 6:04 PM, Jun 19, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:52-04

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District is drafting an ordinance to help reduce lead exposure.

In 2016, of the children from zero up to 14 years of age tested in the 76707 zip code, nearly 16.4 percent of them had elevated blood lead levels of five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood or higher. That percentage is higher than the state average of 2.6 percent.

Public Health District Spokeswoman Kelly Craine said currently once a physician tests a child, those results go to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The department is working with DSHS to see if it can start receiving regular reporting. In addition, the district is working with doctors to let them know the areas of high risk to identify patients who should be tested.

"We are limited in opportunities to let people know if they are living in a place that has high lead levels. At this point, we have no ability to do that. We have no power to do that. We are looking at ways that we can just help families," Craine said.

The Waco City Council asked the health department to draft an ordinance to tackle this issue. According to Craine, the department's research has indicated currently there are no cities in Texas with a lead ordinance so they are looking at ordinances in cities, such as Richmond, Washington D.C. and Baltimore for guidance.

"This may be a way that we can help people in different zip codes. If we know a child has high lead levels, then we have an opportunity to work with that family, to work with that homeowner, test their home to see if it is an issue of dust or paint or if it is in the soil," Craine said.

Renee Utley who lives in the 76707 zip code and takes care of three of her grandchildren often was surprised to hear that area had a high percentage of children who tested positive for high elevated blood lead levels.

She said her grandchildren tested negative in their last lead test.

"Just because it doesn't show up now, it doesn't mean, it's not going to show up later. It makes me strip the walls down and have them painted with modern paint because I don't know how old this paint on the walls is," Utley said.

She has not had her older home tested.

"I don't think it is harmful but not knowing it's a concern," Utley said.

Providence Healthcare Network Family Medicine Physician Tim Martindale said children are tested for lead at ages one and two after the that the test is based on risk factors and symptoms.

"Any kind of thing, especially dealing with mental development, motor development, puberty development and mood changes could be triggers that make us want to consider lead exposure," Dr. Martindale said.

He said lead exposure could come from lead paint pealing, which becomes a powder. In addition, it could come from old pipes.

"Most of these is dealing with older homes, older residences that may have higher risks for lead exposure," Dr. Martindale said.

Craine said they believe the source of exposure in McLennan County is lead paint.

Dr. Martindale said patients exposed to lead can be treated with  lead chelation therapy.

Other zip codes with higher percentage of children (0-14 years of age) with elevated blood lead levels than state average.

  • 76557: 5.9*
  • 76624: 3.7*
  • 76638: 6.6*
  • 76640: 2.8*
  • 76664: 5.8*
  • 767604: 7.2*
  • 76706: 7.1
  • 76708: 5.8*
  • 76710: 4.40*
  • 76711: 4.7

* Percentage could be higher but DSHS doesn't provide specific data when there are less than five children with elevated blood levels to protect patient identity.

The ordinance would help the health district interact with families of children affected and reduce lead exposure.

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