Health officials: Lead exposure down in Minn.by Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Public health officials say they've made significant strides in reducing the number of Minnesota kids exposed to lead.
Public health campaigns have concentrated their lead abatement spending on replacing old windows, and that effort has resulted in far fewer lead poisoning cases, officials say.
Lead dust can cause serious health problems in young children. Chipped and peeling paint in older homes is the primary cause of lead poisoning.
"Fifteen years ago there were over 400 kids and now we're around 100. So we've really come a long way in reducing those numbers," said Dan Symonik, who supervises the lead program at the state Health Department. "However, there still are some areas where there are some risks."
Even at low levels of exposure, lead can slow a child's development, make it difficult to concentrate and cause behavior problems.
Symonik said another 800 children last year had levels of lead that fell short of poisoning, but were still considered harmful.
While a federal campaign to eliminate lead poisonings by 2010 has not achieved its goal, Minnesota officials say they still have much to celebrate.
The Ramsey County Department of Public Health says its lead poisoning cases have plunged 78 percent over the past 15 years.
Jim Yannarelly, environmental health program supervisor, said federal dollars have helped the county pay for a lot of lead paint abatement in older homes.
"It's windows. It's deteriorated lead-based paint on window jams, window sashes, in the window wells," he said. "So most of the kids in Ramsey County, they get lead poisoned, are simply playing in their window wells."