by Wilma Subra
Technical Director, LEAN
A municipal drinking water system provides drinking water to approximately 1,100 individuals living in the town of St. Joseph , Louisiana. The quality of drinking water provided to customers has degraded over the years as a result of a poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system.
Testing of the water in individual homes has identified lead concentrations in excess of the Primary Drinking Water Standard, 15 ppb. The governor of the State of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, issues a Public Health Emergency on December 16, 2016. The Governor ordered the testing of every household in the Town of St. Joseph within four weeks time.
The Louisiana Department of Health recommended residence use an alternative source of water for personal consumption, brushing of teeth, making ice, rinsing food and food preparation. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness was tasked with providing bottle water to the Town of St. Joseph.
Impacts of Exposure to Lead
The most vulnerable populations exposed to lead are minor children under the age of six. Low levels of lead in the blood affect IQ, slow a child’s development, cause learning and behavior problems, decreases ability to learn and decreases academic achievement. Lead is harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children. Children exposed to lead have blood lead levels that increase more rapidly at 6 to 12 months and peak at 18 to 24 months. The effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.
The standard for blood lead levels in children was 10 micrograms per deciliter up until 2012. Since that time, the reference level of lead in blood in children is 5 micrograms per deciliter. This reference level is based on the 97.5 % of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) blood lead distribution in children.
Determining Potential Exposed Population of Minor Children in St. Joseph, Louisiana
Determine the minor children population of St. Joseph that are potentially exposed to the highest concentrations of lead in their drinking water. As the Louisiana Department of Health releases the lead concentrations in each household in the Town of St. Joseph, identify minor children living full time and part time in each of the households with levels of lead above the Primary Drinking Water Standard. For each minor child, obtain the age and date of birth and the number of years the child lived part time or full time in the household. If the place of residence for a child has changed during the life of the child, obtain information on the previous location of residence.
Day Care Centers and baby sitting services in individual homes should be evaluated to determine if the water supply source the children have access to and could be exposed to during their periods of care at the centers contain lead at any level as well as lead in excess of the Primary Drinking Water Standard.
As the distribution of water is taking place in the Town of St. Joseph, information on minor children could be obtained as individuals pickup their supplies of bottled water or as volunteers deliver bottled water to homes within the town of St. Joseph.
Facilitation of Blood Testing for Lead in the Most Exposed Minor Populations of St. Joseph
Children under the age of six that have consumed lead contaminated drinking water from the Town of St. Joseph that exceed the Primary Drinking Water Standard of 15 ppb, should be the first to have their blood tested for lead. Work with the Louisiana Department of Health and primary care physicians serving the St. Joseph population to facilitate the testing of these segments of the minor children population.
Based on the results of the blood lead testing during the first round of testing, develop appropriate procedures to address the contaminated population and test lead blood levels in the next highest exposed populations.
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