DHSS aims to spread awareness on lead exposure in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A national effort on raising awareness and prevention on lead exposure kicked off on Oct. 21, but state organizations are attempting to educate the public on common sources of lead that children are exposed to in Alaska.

Nationwide, children are mainly exposed to lead in older homes that still have lead-based paint from before 1978, when LBP was still sold.

“It’s not something that is taking over the state in terms of a health issue, but we do want to intervene and prevent exposure,” said Jonathan Bressler, an epidemiologist with DHSS. “And that’s why we’re trying to get the word out.”

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, children in the state are still exposed to lead in older buildings, but there are other sources that are common in Alaska.

According to the DHSS:

  • Many children are exposed to lead from parents or others who work with lead in some way. For example, parents who work at a firing range, where lead ammunition is used, can bring home lead dust on clothing or shoes, or contaminate their vehicles, which children might ride in. Other occupations, such as mechanics, welders, or miners could bring lead dust home.

  • Some people might cast bullets at home, or work with lead fishing weights or “lead lines”, in places where children might play or access.

  • There’s also a lot of hunting in Alaska. Game that is shot with lead bullets can be contaminated with lead fragments, and although hunters clean out as much as they can after taking an animal, lead fragments can be very, very small and travel quite far from the wound. You might not be able to remove every piece of lead, and could ingest lead in the meat.
  • Hunters interested in avoiding this might consider using non-lead ammunition.

“Kids are exposed to lead longer and they have smaller body sizes so the exposure they get is much higher than adults,” said Lily Lou, a pediatrician. “It impacts brain development, it can also impact emotional control, and attention. Those are things that are really important for children being successful in life.”

The DHSS recommends that children that have a possibility of exposure get a blood test.

In Alaska, children with Medicaid insurance are required to get a blood lead test at 12 and 24 months of age.

The department also recommends that home owners purchase tests for home and water for lead exposure.

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