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The elevated levels of lead and arsenic in the soil are left over from contamination that occurred years ago by the operations of several lead smelting facilities that were located in this area until the 1960s.
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Contaminated soil can enter the body if it is swallowed or breathed in. Soil generates small dust particles that can settle on clothing, on toys, and in the home. It can enter the home on the soles of shoes and other items such as bike tires.
Children may swallow the dust when they put their hands and toys in their mouths. Young children (under the age of 6) are at the greatest risk of exposure to the lead and arsenic dust because they play in soil and put soil-covered toys and hands in their mouths. In fact, children get about twice as much soil in their bodies from their activities as do adults.
Most of us have some lead and arsenic in our bodies from exposures in everyday life. It is not possible to determine whether the lead and arsenic in your body is from your exposure to the contaminated soil or another source. The East Chicago Health Department and others have been conducting blood testing for lead and have found that more children have elevated blood lead levels than would normally be expected. This may be from the soil.
Testing for arsenic in the body is not reliable and is reserved for cases of high-dose poisoning rather than exposure from the environment. It is usually conducted by poison specialists.
Over time, lead can damage children’s nervous systems which may result in small changes to IQ and behavior. Since the brain develops before birth but continues for the first several years of life, pregnant women and children six years of age and under are at higher risk than older children and adults.
Children and adults exposed to high levels of arsenic may have irritation of the stomach and intestines, blood vessel damage, skin changes, and reduced nerve function. Long-term exposure in children may lead to learning disabilities and other neurological effects. High levels of arsenic can also increase the risk of developing cancer.
Children and pregnant women who live in West Calumet Housing Complex should have their blood tested for lead. You or your child’s health care provider or the East Chicago Health Department (ECHD) can perform the test. ECHD is located at:100 W Chicago AvenueEast Chicago, IN 46312
For more information, contact ECHD at 219-391-8467.
All children less than 6 years old who receive Medicaid are required to be tested for lead yearly.
This is a difficult question to answer. We know that even low levels of lead can cause small changes in a child’s growing brain. However, we are unable to predict which children will have problems in the future due to their lead exposure. Some lead exposed children seem to do fine.
About 2.5% of children in the United States have a blood lead level equal to or above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which is considered elevated. Most children test lower than 5 micrograms per deciliter, however very few are close to zero. Elevated blood lead is most typically the result of contact with lead-based paint in the home.
Here are some comparison levels to help you understand you or your child’s blood lead results:
Medicine to remove lead from the body has its own risks and therefore is not prescribed until blood lead levels are greater than 45 micrograms per deciliter. Low levels of lead will be removed from the body over time (through the urine and stool).
Regardless of your child’s lead level, you should speak with your child’s health care provider to have your child further evaluated if he or she does not seem to be developing normally.
There are activities you can do with your child that will stimulate his or her brain as it is developing and may counteract the possible damage caused by lead. These activities include:
Tips for preventing lead and arsenic from entering your child include: