Local group tests children for lead

Anna Ewart

During December, Metropolitan Health Plan will be testing some of its youngest coverage holders for lead poisoning at Cedar-Riverside’s Brian Coyle Community Center.

Although recent news about lead-tainted toys from China has scared consumers, lead can be ingested from many different sources. Lead paint, which was outlawed in the United States during the 1970s, can still be found in older houses.

Twin Cities children should be tested for lead, especially if they visit or live in old houses, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The Metropolitan Health Plan, a not-for-profit HMO, is testing children’s blood for unsafe levels of lead.

Lead poisoning can cause learning, behavioral and health problems – and children are more susceptible to lead’s negative effects than other age groups.

Environmental health sciences professor John Adgate said since lead was removed from gasoline in the 1980s, rates of lead poisoning have been decreasing, but that doesn’t mean children don’t need to be tested.

Elevated levels of lead have historically been more common among children in low-income communities, like those in the city as opposed to suburban areas, he said.

On Saturday, many residents were taken to and from the center in taxis paid for by the Metropolitan Health Plan.

Other groups also have shown increased rates of lead poisoning.

“It still tends to be minority children,” Adgate said.

Joan Mailander, an MHP nurse who coordinated the testing, said all MHP members are part of a public-health program and may receive medical assistance.

“Children that are on medical assistance live in poverty,” she said.

The MHP targets children ages 9 months to 30 months, and it is giving them Target gift cards this month when they get tested for lead.

Mailander said this age group is susceptible to ingesting more lead because babies tend to crawl around the floor and put things in their mouths, and testing their lead levels is very common.

Arif Altaf, MHP’s community outreach manager, said lead testing is part of Child & Teen Checkups, a health-care program for people younger than 20 who are enrolled in Medicaid or MinnesotaCare.

Tyeshia Allen brought her son to get tested for lead Saturday at the community center due in part, she said, to her own childhood experience.

Allen said she and her brothers had unhealthy levels of lead in their bodies as children.

She said she grew up in an old house in Milwaukee and now lives in an old house in Minneapolis with her son.

Catrina Reinhart, a nurse working with MHP on Saturday, said once high levels of lead are found in a child’s body, inspectors work to remove the source of lead, which is often found in the child’s home.

Federal law requires health-care providers to test children for lead periodically.

In Minnesota, organizations like MHP are encouraged to test a certain number of their patients.

“If we pass the threshold of 45 percent, then we get money back,” Altaf said.

Melisha Hodroff, MHP community health worker, said members were directly notified by phone about the testing events. However, Saturday’s snow may have prevented some from reaching Brian Coyle Community Center.

Additional MHP lead-testing services are scheduled sporadically through this month.