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How zip codes can help protect your child from lead poisoning

Check your exposure risk with the map in our story
Zip codes protect your child from lead poisoning
Zip codes protect your child from lead poisoning
Posted at 4:40 PM, Feb 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-02 00:22:13-05

It can poison your infant and drag down his or her intelligence for life.

We are talking about lead exposure.

But you can test your risk with a check of your zip code, and take steps to keep your child safe.
Charlotte Guerette loves her great-grandchild Amyiah and loves that she often comes to visit.  But then she learned there was a chance her house could poison the little girl---with dust from lead paint.

"I was concerned.  I would not want my grandchild to get lead poisoning, that's for sure."
A City of Tucson program could tell there was a risk because the crank out windows her house had were old enough to be made with lead paint.

Karla Timmons runs Tucson’s Lead Hazard Control Program.  She says: "What happens is every time a homeowner opens the window and closes the window it's impacting that surface.  After it impacts it long enough it starts creating lead dust and the lead dust will frequently fall on the windowsill and young children, they hold themselves up on windowsills and or it can get on the floor.  Young children are the ones on the floor; they're crawling, they're putting their hands in their mouths."
Timmons showed us new lead-free windows the City of Tucson installed in Charlotte Guerette’s home under a special program. More on that in a moment.

Your zip code can help warn you if you are at risk.  The Arizona Health Department website lists high-riskareas by zip code.  It's based on the age of the buildings because lead paint was banned in homes after 1978. You can also see high-riskareas on an Arizona map or see them as a zip code list.
The state health department says one and two-year-olds in all the high-risk areas should have a blood test for lead.  In lighter areas, the state still recommends a questionnaire to measure the risk.

Doctor Andrew Arthur is a pediatrician at El Rio Community Health Center. He says any parent should be aware of lead’s risks.

"It's a preventable cause of permanent damage to a brain and a small child with a developing brain is particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of lead."
As a pediatrician at El Rio, Doctor Arthur treats a lot of children from neighborhoods with older homes at higher risk for lead. He believes all children should be tested for lead wherever they live because the effect of lead can be so easy to miss.

"At low levels of the poisoning, the effects are completely silent.  So you can see on a population basis if you have a modest increase in lead for the population of children you will see a very small  but measurable decrease in intellectual performance."

Lead exposure can come from:

  • peeling paint
  • old furniture or toys
  • foreign made pottery
  • imported spices and candy
  • certain folk remedies

The city of Tucson's Lead Hazard Control Program inspects homes at high risk and removes a lead threat if they find it. 

“When the City of Tucson program finds lead paint on a wall they want to be so sure that lead does not get loose in the environment that they go beyond simply painting it over with non-leaded paint.  They actually take a fresh sheet of drywall and seal that lead in.
The city replaced Charlotte Guerette's old lead-tainted windows because she met low-income limits and because Amiyiah is a regular visitor.

"She had to have a blood test.  That was one of the provisions of doing this.  She had to be tested, and I don't know what I'd have done if it would have come back positive for lead poisoning. I'd have just been devastated."