Free lead testing offered; 215 children in county found exposed last year



WATERTOWN - In Jefferson County, where 215 children tested in 2016 were found to have lead poisoning, the county Public Health Service will offer free lead poisoning screening on Oct. 19.

Blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or greater, the amount the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says indicates a level of concern, were found in 215 children out of the 2,678 tested — approximately 8 percent.

The testing revealed blood lead levels of up to 74 micrograms per deciliter in the county’s children.

A naturally-occurring metal that is widespread in the earth’s crust, lead is a cumulatively potent neurotoxin, which means its effects mount as it is consumed. It can cause lead poisoning, which seriously damages the brain and nervous system.

Much more common, however, is short-term or long-term exposure to small amounts of lead. A wide range of studies have consistently found lead exposure can substantially decrease IQ, slow growth and development, contribute to learning and behavior problems including ADHD and juvenile delinquency and even impact hearing and speech.

Despite the CDC’s 5-micrograms-per-deciliter threshold, no amount of lead found in blood has ever been identified as safe.

Public health law in New York requires lead testing for children at one and two years-old. Of Jefferson County’s 2,678 tests, according to Health Planner Faith Lustik, only 114 tests were from children age 6 or older.

Most lead exposure in the U.S. comes from lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust in deteriorating buildings, and lead in soil around homes.

Another source children can be exposed through is contaminated drinking water.

In September 2016, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued requirements for all public schools in the state to establish limits for lead levels in drinking water.

He also required schools to develop plans to bring contamination levels below the 15 parts per billion limit and communicate all testing data to the public.

The state Department of Health said the goal of the new testing process is to “identify and eliminate” children’s exposure to lead in drinking water at school.

In Jefferson County, the General Brown Central School District alone had five drinking fountains which tested above the 15 parts per billion limit as of last December.

Studying the effect of blood lead levels takes years, as behavioral and mental symptoms can be subtle and take time to present themselves.

Early research on lead exposure focused on much higher lead levels than are now studied. In the decades since lead became a subject of interest, studies have focused on lower and lower exposure levels.

Even the most recent studies examining comparatively miniscule blood lead levels — below 15 ppb — have found indications that children are still negatively impacted. These studies are cited in the CDC’s assertion that there is no safe level of lead consumption.

Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable to its impacts and the effects of lead are irreversible.

The public Health Service is offering free screening as part of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

Testing, done by drawing blood via finger stick, is the only way to diagnose a child with lead poisoning. Screening will take place by appointment on Oct. 19 at the Public Health Facility at 531 Meade St., Watertown.

To schedule an appointment, visit All families who are screened via appointment will receive a gift bag of materials to prevent lead poisoning.


Jefferson County Public Health Service provides five simple steps for preventing lead poisoning and protecting your family:

■ Get your home tested. Before you buy an older home, ask for a lead inspection. Go to to find a local certified inspector.

■ Get your child tested. Even if your young children seem healthy, ask your doctor to test them for lead. In New York children must be tested at age one and two.

■ If your home has lead based paint, wet clean to remove dust, wash your child’s hands and toys frequently, use a HEPA filter vacuum, and keep the paint in good condition by painting over the lead based paint.

■ Get the facts. Learn about lead poisoning at or call 1-800-424-LEAD.

Jen JacksonComment