Lead Innovation Team encourages parents to take advantage of free lead screening kits

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Lead Testing Kit

Lead Testing Kit

The Notre Dame Lead Innovation Team (ND-LIT), in collaboration with the St. Joseph County Health Department, is encouraging parents of young children in South Bend and St. Joseph County to test for lead in and around the home — particularly in areas with high levels of lead and with children spending more time at home because of the pandemic.

ND-LIT, with support from the Eck Institute for Global Health, works with local governments and nonprofit organizations to reduce lead exposure and prevent lead poisoning among children of all ages in South Bend and St. Joseph County, particularly those 6 and younger, who are the most vulnerable.

To that end, the team developed a free DIY screening kit that parents can use to collect paint, soil and dust samples from around the home. Parents submit the samples for analysis and receive a report in return indicating the presence or absence of lead and explaining the results.

The report includes steps for minimizing lead exposure, such as cleaning up lead dust and covering bare soil, as well as information about other lead-related services and resources available through the county health department and city of South Bend.

“Protecting children from lead exposure is our priority,” said Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, director of the master of science in global health program and co-founder of ND-LIT at Notre Dame. “The first step in protecting children from lead is identifying where the lead is coming from. We have developed a fast, easy-to-use kit to screen homes or rentals to help families do that.”

Lead is a toxic metal that can accumulate in the body over time, resulting in serious health problems. The most common source of lead poisoning in children is deteriorating lead-based paint, contaminated soil and/or lead dust in older homes, particularly those built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead paint. Children exposed to elevated levels of lead can experience neurological problems, resulting in emotional and developmental delays.

Nearly 80 percent of the homes in South Bend were built before 1980. Consequently, many contain lead paint. The problem is particularly acute in older neighborhoods near the city center. Citywide, seven census tracts have elevated blood lead levels greater than 20 percent, with one tract as high as 36 percent. Tap water is not a significant source of lead exposure in the city.

Historically, testing rates for children 6 and younger in St. Joseph County have fallen below the CDC recommendation for universal testing for lead poisoning.

“The Lead Innovation Team at Notre Dame has been an important partner in raising awareness, promoting lead screening and advocating for at-risk populations,” said Mark Fox, deputy health officer for the St. Joseph County Health Department. “The DIY home screening kit is another tool in this important work.”

It is recommended that all children in St. Joseph County have their blood lead levels tested at 1 and 2 years of age; for children who have not previously been tested, it is recommended for all children age 6 and younger.

The health department conducts free lead risk assessments in homes with children 6 and younger, pregnant women or previously identified lead-poisoned children. The city of South Bend, meanwhile, offers grants for lead-safe home repair for eligible households.

For more information or to request a free lead screening kit, visit leadinfo.nd.edu.

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127, eblasko@nd.edu