Iowa braces for funding cuts to lead poisoning prevention programs

Iowa has more than four times the prevalence of lead poisoning among children under the age of 6

CEDAR RAPIDS – Public health leaders are concerned that funding cuts for lead poisoning prevention programs will severely impact Iowa children.

At 7 percent, Iowa has more than four times the prevalence of lead poisoning among children under the age of 6, compared to the national average of 1.6 percent, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

That makes the cuts to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which help fund state programs, especially problematic in Iowa, said Ann Olson, lead program coordinator for Linn County Public Health.

“It’s going to be kind of a wait and see,” Olson said. “The key thing is they pretty much wiped out funding for that program.”

Congress slashed the CDC’s budget to $2 million, down from $29.2 million last year.

Iowa is losing nearly $600,000 for its Healthy Home and lead prevention program, said Ken Sharp, environmental health division director for the state health department.

Of that, about $200,000 went to local county programs that work with families affected by lead poisoning; Linn County received about $57,000 this year. The state already provides 75 percent of funding for those programs, Sharp said.

The other $400,000 was for staff at the state health department, who conduct training for lead prevention programs and work in counties that do not have such programs, among other duties.

Sharp said the federal funding was for case management, including additional testing for children found to have high lead levels in their blood.

Linn County is among those with programs dedicated to lead poisoning prevention. Johnson County does not have the program.

Olson noted that Iowa is among the top 10 nationally in its older housing stock, which is more likely to have lead paint.

Children who live in homes built before 1950 can be lead poisoned when they ingest paint chips or when they have dust or lead-contaminated soil on their hands and put their hands in their mouths.

Olson said children who have lead poisoning are more likely to have learning disabilities, lower IQs, hearing and speech disorders and kidney failure.

In the long-term, those children have higher high school dropout rates and rates of juvenile delinquency, she said, “and it can be fatal.”

Free blood screenings are offered in Linn County for children aged 12-months-old to 6-years-old.

Staff work with families and doctors for follow up tests, which is where the impact of the cuts might be seen the most.

Linn County also had separate funding under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development the past nine years for lead abatement, which funded removal of lead paint in homes and relocation of the families until project completion.

Olson said Linn County did not receive funding in the latest round of HUD grants.

Sharp said it is too soon to say how the CDC funding cuts might impact staffing.

He is hopeful that federal funding will be restored for 2013 and that the CDC will be able to expedite the grant process.That would leave the state to pick up the full costs for several months, but avoid widespread cancellation of programs or layoffs, Sharp said.

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