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Louisville organizations push to help prevent harmful lead exposure

Aprile Rickert

Nearly 10,000 Louisville children have been identified with lead exposure since 2005 — an average of 625 a year.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can have the same effect as a traumatic brain injury.

It can be found in air and soil contaminated with leaded gasoline, which was banned in the late 1990s. Homes built before 1978 can also have lead pipes and paint.

Even low levels of exposure can affect children’s growth and development, causing lasting issues into adulthood. Children under 6 are the most vulnerable, but pregnant people can also pass it to an unborn fetus.

Nick Hart, assistant director of Environmental Health at the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said the risk is greater in areas like west Louisville, where historically racist policies have kept many residents in unsafe older homes.

“In fact, children in those neighborhoods could be up to 10 times at greater risk of experiencing lead exposure,” he said.

Hart was one of several people who spoke to news media Wednesday in an effort to help raise awareness of the effects of lead exposure.

Other health officials and community leaders there said more needs to be done to prevent its harmful effects.

“It’s certainly an issue that’s too big for any one person to fix,” said Brian Guinn, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Louisville. “We need to have systematic change, and that can only occur when our elected officials care about this pressing issue.”

Earlier this year, the Louisville Metro Council allocated $1 million in American Rescue Plan Funds to help the department shift its focus to preventing lead exposure.

“In the past, we wait to find children who’ve already been exposed, and then we offer them services to help reduce that exposure,” Hart said. “We still continue to do that. But we’re on a big push to change this focus to stop lead exposure before it occurs.”

Marty Carter, community outreach specialist for the health department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program, said routine testing at a health care provider’s office is the best way to monitor for lead in the body.

“If lead is detected in you or one of your children, you need to call us right away,” she said. “Number one, we’re going to come out and find out where that lead is coming from. Number two, we’re going to find out what we need to do, or help you do, to eradicate that lead poisoning.”

Carter said residents can also help prevent exposure by cleaning and mopping homes frequently, washing their hands and children’s hands, and wiping and removing shoes before entering their homes. She said to clean animals, too, because they can also bring lead hazards from outside the home.

Louisville Metro’s offices of Housing and Community Development will also be providing grants through the Lead-Safe Louisville program to help identify and remediate lead hazards. It’s made possible by $2.9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To be eligible, the home must be built before 1978 and have children under 6 or pregnant women who live there or visit for at least six hours a week. The residents’ income must be at or below 80% of the average median income for the area.

For more information about lead poisoning and prevention, call 502-574-6644, visit stopleadlou.com or email LMPHWCLPPP@louisvilleky.gov. Visit the Lead-Safe Louisville website or call 502-574-5850 to determine eligibility for that program.

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