Parents of children who’ll enter kindergarten this fall need to show school officials their child has been tested for lead poisoning. A blood test shows whether children have high levels of lead in their body.
Rita Gergeley of the Iowa Department of Public Health says a state legislator who represents an area of Des Moines with many older homes that have lead paint pushed hardest for this requirement. "I believe he felt that not enough children were being tested for lead poisoning and that this was at least one time, you know, one occasion when we would know which children we were looking at and if the child wasn’t tested that we could get them tested," Gergeley says, and that hopefully younger children in the family would be tested at the same time and that eventually providers would start to test (children) at a younger age."
Children can suffer brain damage and hearing loss from exposure to lead. Lead poisoning may also stunt a child’s growth. "It also causes a reduction in I.Q.; causes problems with learning to do math, with reading; with being able to organize thoughts and organize their work," Gergeley says. "It really effects almost any learning process out there."
Gergeley’s encouraging parents to have their toddlers and preschoolers tested rather than wait ’til a child is getting ready to enter kindergarten. "And in fact many children are being tested at an earlier age and those tests do count," Gergeley says. "We don’t want providers to suddenly start testing everyone at the age of five. We want them to continue to test them starting at the age of one year as we have always recommended."
According to the latest statistics, about seven percent of Iowa children under the age of six have lead poisoning. That’s about four times the national average. Most homes in Iowa that were built before 1950 contain lead-based paint. Young children who live in those homes get lead poisoning when they put paint chips or soil from their yard in their mouths, or when they get house dust and soil on their hands and then put their hands in their mouths.