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DOH Surpasses Initial Goal of Screening 1,000 Children for Lead Exposure

The V.I. Health Department has surpassed its initial goal of screening at least 1,000 St. Croix children aged zero to six for lead exposure, Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion announced.

The lead screening effort was in response to the local State of Emergency declared on Oct. 30 to address possible lead and copper contamination in the potable water system. DPNR and the DOH are leading the response effort, alongside VITEMA and the WAPA, according to the press release.

“In October we launched an initiative to establish a baseline of current exposure levels which is critical to identifying potential risk to that population,” said Encarnacion. “We targeted the most vulnerable population for lead exposure – children aged zero to six – and offered free screening at our base in Estate Richmond, on school campuses and at day cares across the island of St. Croix.”

“What we found is that the lead screening aligns with the results of water sampling and that there is minimal lead in the potable water system,” Encarnacion said.

Lead screening began on Oct. 31 with a pilot at the Alfredo Andrews School. Since then, the DOH Epidemiology and Laboratory divisions have screened the zero to six population at every public, private and parochial school and daycare that opted in. Children who are home-schooled were also given the opportunity to be tested. The screening was provided at no cost to the child and parental consent was required before the test could be administered, the press release stated.

Lead screening was provided at the Charles Harwood Modulars and at the following schools, daycares and communities that requested services; Alfredo Andrews Elementary School, Lew Muckle Elementary School, Good Hope/Country Day School, Claude O. Markoe Elementary School, St. Croix Montessori School, Ricardo Richards Elementary School, Eulalie Rivera Elementary School, Free Will Baptist School, Star Apple Montessori, Juanita Gardine Elementary School, Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School, School of the Good Shepherd, St. Croix Christian Academy, St. Patrick’s Catholic School, Church of God Holiness School, Reading Rainbow Preschool, La Petite, Profit Hills and Bethlehem Village Community, Lifeline Educational Services, Early Head Start Christiansted, Early Head Start Frederiksted, Inner Changes for Girls and Boys Council, Rattan Montessori School, Clifton Hill, Nurturing Minds, Little Kids Club, and Tenacious Toddlers Learning Center, the release stated.

As of Fri., Dec. 15, approximately 1,270 individuals were screened for lead, with two confirmed as positive for lead in the blood, according to Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis.

The pediatric blood lead screening, also known as a finger-prick sample, was the first step in checking a child’s blood for lead content. If the finger prick sample yielded positive results, the VI Department of Health promptly contacted the parent or guardian to recommend confirmatory testing through a venous blood draw, according to the release.

“Part of the department’s response to positive lead cases is also to assess the home to find the source of the lead,” Dr. Ellis said. “We have assessed the homes of both individuals and we found items in both homes containing lead. Tap water testing in both homes for lead contamination is pending to complete the investigation.”

A blood lead test is the best way to find out if a child has lead poisoning. A child with lead poisoning may not have visible signs or symptoms. Many children who have lead poisoning look and act healthy. Children under the age of six are still developing rapidly, and lead exposure can adversely affect their brain, nervous system, growth, development, and overall behavior, the release stated.

For concerns related to lead exposure, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. To stay updated on response efforts, please visit www.cleanwaterusvi.com.

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