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Louisville kids are still at risk for lead poisoning. Here's how healthy eating can help

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Louisville kids are still at risk for lead poisoning. Here's how healthy eating can help

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The Courier Journal's continued coverage of food insecurity in Louisville is supported by the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism's 2018 National Fellowship.

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CourierJournal
Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Did you know eating certain foods can help prevent a child from getting lead poisoning?

That's the message two Louisville agencies hope to spread through an upcoming series of free nutrition classes in the city's West End, where cases of elevated blood lead levels are most common.

Across Louisville, an estimated 1,400 children had elevated blood lead levels between 2011 and 2016, according to the most recent data from the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

Lead poisoning can affect a child's growth and development and is the focus of the city's federally funded Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

The program and nonprofit Louisville Grows have partnered to offer the nutrition classes, which will take place at 1641 Portland Ave.

Parents, read this: Help your kids avoid a summer reading setback with these tips

Below, find more information on the classes and how lead poisoning is affecting our community:

What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a toxic material that can build up in your body and travel to organs like the brain, liver, kidney and bones, according to the 2017 Louisville Metro Health Equity Report.

There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe, the report states, and lead can be especially harmful to fetuses, infants and young children whose brains and bodies are still developing.

Lead poisoning happens when children eat, swallow or breathe in lead found in their environments, according to the report. 

Where is lead found?

Dust from old lead paint is the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning, though kids can also encounter lead exposure in dirt or water that has been polluted, according to the Health Equity Report.

The United States banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978. However, many homes built prior to the ban may still have old lead paint.

In Jefferson County, 65% of all housing units were built before 1980, according to the 2017 American Community Survey estimate.

"Chipping and peeling paint is one of the more obvious ways" children encounter lead, said Gabriell Gassaway, coordinator for the Louisville Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. "Small children put everything in their mouths. And it has a sweet taste. Small children go back because it tastes nice to them."

Until the 1970s, lead was also commonly used in products such as water pipes and gasoline, the Health Equity Report states.

Lead from those products can still linger in the earth around which they were used, including near roadways and public spaces.

Also: Life is improving for Kentucky kids, but they are better off in other states

What are the effects of lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning can cause a child to experience lower IQ levels, a higher likelihood of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and slower growth and development of the brain and nervous system, according to the Health Equity Report.

There are often no immediately noticeable symptoms of lead poisoning, the report states. However, lead poisoning can present itself as problems with hearing, high blood pressure and poor kidney function.

How do I know if my child is affected?

Blood tests are used to determine the amount of lead in a person's body.

Children under the age of 6 are generally tested for lead exposure if their guardians answer positively to a Lead Poisoning Verbal Risk Assessment administered by the child's general practitioner.

All children enrolled in Medicaid are required to receive blood lead screening tests at ages 12 months and 24 months, according to the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Tests that show blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher are considered a level of concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How can eating well reduce risks?

Children who regularly eat foods full of nutrients — such as calcium, iron and vitamin C — are less likely to absorb lead, Gassaway said.

That's because a child's body is absorbing the metals that it needs, which can prevent lead from entering the blood stream.

"It's not to say it will prevent lead exposure 100%," Gassaway said. "But you really want to do what you can to decrease the likelihood of negative effects. These are growing children. Their bodies want to eat up everything they can."

Gassaway and representatives of Louisville Grows worked with a nutritionist from the University of Louisville to create a plan for the upcoming classes.

Each class will include a short presentation along with a cooking demonstration and an opportunity to learn about local resources.

The agencies also plan to give away free food bags at each class.

More: Louisville restaurants can now be fined for lacking healthy options for kids

How do I attend a nutrition class?

The classes will take place at 5 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Monday, July 8
  • Thursday, July 18

Classes will meet at 1641 Portland Ave. Street parking is available, and the building is accessible on TARC bus route 71.

To register for a class, visit eventbrite.com/e/use-nutrition-to-fight-lead-exposure-tickets-62163489671 or contact Gassaway at Gabriell.Gassaway@louisvilleky.gov or 502-574-6589.

What other resources are available?

Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

The program, under the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness, works to prevent lead poisoning by providing training and education to parents, medical providers, school officials and property owners.

The program also offers case management for children with elevated blood lead levels and conducts home risk assessments at properties that meet certain qualifications.

Find tips and other information online at louisvilleky.gov.

Lead Safe Louisville

Lead Safe Louisville, a partnership between two city departments, uses federal funding to eliminate lead hazards in both owner-occupied and rental units within the metro area.

Funding is available to low-income occupants whose homes or apartments were built before 1978.

[This article was originally published on Courier Journal.]