The City of Gary recently received a more than $27,000 grant to help prevent child lead poisoning. Among other things, the city plans to help educate the parents and healthcare providers of kids with elevated blood lead levels.
“We’re very much about being proactive about the delivery of health and human services in the city of Gary," says Rodina Iacovacci, lead case manager for the Gary Health Department.
But some say the state's standard for blood lead levels is outdated. Seven years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered its threshold for when it says public health agencies should address elevated blood lead levels in children. It cut it in half — and the agency has talked about lowering it even further.
But Indiana and more than 30 other states haven’t updated their requirements to match the CDC’s recommendations. Heidi Beidinger, a professor of public health at the University of Notre Dame, says Indiana is woefully out of compliance.
“We could be helping so many more children if the state of Indiana would drop that threshold," she says.
Beidinger and a team of researchers also found that lead testing was inconsistent in South Bend and St. Joseph County — and there's reason to believe other parts of the state are much the same.
She says if Indiana was screening kids for lead more often, we would be able to identify and remove more lead hazards from their homes, before children become poisoned.
"This notion that we're using children's bodies as divining rods to find lead in the environment is archaic and, in my opinion, unethical and immoral," she says.
Beidinger says the city of South Bend now requires landlords show proof that their rentals are safe from lead and some other hazards.
Because many homes built before 1978 have lead paint, the CDC recommends all 1- and 2-year-olds get tested for lead — not just those most at risk. Beidinger says, just like vaccinations, lead testing should be a part of pediatricians’ routine.
According to the World Health Organization, there is no safe level of lead exposure.
CORRECTION: The previous version of the story said that Gary had a stricter standard than the state's regarding blood lead levels. After publication, the City of Gary clarified that it is following state recommendations that suggest some action at the 5 microgram per deciliter level, that are recommended but not required by the state.
Indiana environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.