Program helps find source of lead poisoning in children

A unique program here in Milwaukee is helping keep children safe from lead.

While the CDC says there is no safe level of lead in children, in Milwaukee, 11.5 percent of children have lead levels considered higher than normal.

But an outreach program through the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers actually goes into some of these homes to find the source of lead poisoning in children.

About 70,000 homes in the city have lead service lines. But many homes also have lead based paints or other possible ways to expose children.

Outreach workers like Alejandra Hernandez with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers program, connect with families after their children test high for lead.

On Thursday, Hernandez visited the home of Yvette Rodriguez, after her daughter's lead level test came back much higher than normal.

"I was kinda shocked when I got the results for her lead because I know her lead was high, but not that high,"  Rodriguez said. "It kinda worries me cause a lot can happen just by the lead."

During the home visit, Hernandez checked windows for paint chips, installed a new water filter and gave Rodriguez information on how her daughter may have been exposed.

According to the city of Milwaukee, the 53206, 53210, 53208 and 53204 zip codes have the highest density of lead poisoning among children.

"A child that is younger than six years old is going to get a lot of that lead in the brain," said Carmen Reinmund, the lead program coordinator. "The child's going to have lower IQ, behavior problems, learning disabilities."

Reinmund says she helps about 12 families a week. The program began in 1996 and she says it's helped decrease lead levels in Milwaukee children over time.

"It's not just going into the home and they have to listen to us but we listen to them," she said. "Because lead might be one of the problems but there's a lot of issues."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an elevated lead level in children is 5 micrograms per deciliter. The CDC says about 500,000 children under the age of 6 have elevated blood lead levels.

As of 2015, 3 percent of Milwaukee children tested were reported to have blood lead levels at 10 µg/dL and 11.5 percent of Milwaukee children tested were reported to have blood lead tests at 5 µg/dL.

There's no charge to the families in the Sixteenth Street program. Funding for the program comes from both the city and the state.

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