Preventing Lead Poisoning in Refugee and Immigrant Communities
[Ann:] Lead. It’s such a dangerous poison, and yet exposure to it is preventable.
Hi, I’m Ann Whitfield-Green, Refugee Lead Coordinator for the New York State Department of Health Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
[Tom:] And I’m Tom Keenan, with the Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.
According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the prevalence of “Elevated Blood Lead Levels” in recently arrived refugee children is more than twice that of United States-born children.
That’s why we’re glad that you, as a re-settlement worker, case manager, or medical provider, are watching this, to become aware of the risks facing your clients, the laws designed to protect them, and the methods to reduce their exposure.
[Ann:] There are several likely factors why refugee and immigrant children have a higher than average incidence of lead poisoning. First, many refugees and immigrants may have been previously exposed to lead hazards in their home countries prior to their arrival in the U.S.
[Tom:] Upon their arrival, refugee and immigrant families tend to cluster in the same areas of cities, insulated from the mainstream community. This insulation, and/or other traditional cultural beliefs may make it less likely that immigrant and refugee families will learn about the procedures and screening tests used to identify and address Elevated Blood Lead Levels.
[Ann:] Also, the socio-economics of life in the United States as a refugee or immigrant often leads to living in older, sub-standard housing where lead paint hazards can exist. It is safer not to place newly arrived refugees or immigrants in pre-1978 housing with chipping or peeling paint.
This is especially important for families with infants and young children, and for pregnant women.
[Tom:] Refugees and immigrants are also at higher risk of lead poisoning because of their higher rates of poor nutrition at the time of arrival into the United States. Diets that do not have enough iron, calcium, and vitamin C can increase the amount of lead that is absorbed and stored by the body.
Finally, additional lead exposure can also be caused by continued use of cultural items and practices with items containing lead.
[Ann:] Because Lead Poisoning is so dangerous, and yet so preventable, New York State requires a Blood Lead Level test for ALL children, at age one and again at age two.
And, for every child up to six years old in New York State, health care providers should utilize “Lead Poisoning Risk Assessment Tool” to ask at every Well Child visit about on-going or accidental exposure that the child may have had with lead.
Children at risk based on the Assessment should get a blood lead test.
And for all Newly Arrived Refugee Children, ages 6 months to 16 years, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a “Blood Lead Level Test” at first entry to the United States, since studies indicate that lead poisoning is a significant problem for older refugee children as well.
In addition, all refugee children up to six years old should be re-tested again in 3 to 6 months, regardless of initial test results, to be sure that they are not being exposed to lead in their new environments.
And older refugee children should also be tested again if there has been a risk of their coming into contact with lead.
[Tom:] The following information is intended for the Refugee and Immigrant Communities that you serve, and can be played for them as a separate looped chapter in your intake area or counseling area.
Please watch this next chapter to familiarize yourself with this important information.
[Ann:] Lead Poisoning is among the most common preventable environmental health hazards for young children.
It’s preventable, because we know what causes it and there is enough available information about how to reduce exposure to lead.
[Tom:] The refugee population that has entered New York State depends on your commitment to disseminate that information with your clients through outreach and education in their native languages about: finding lead-safe housing, simple house cleaning strategies, proper nutrition, and available Blood-Lead Level testing.
[Ann:] Remember, even a very small amount of lead can harm a young child.