The best medicine is prevention. In this tradition, the city of St. Louis has began an initiative to inspect pregnant women’s home for lead paint. Babies that are brought in for medical treatment after showing signs of lead exposure have already incurred damage. To prevent this malady, St. Louis wants to stop the problem before it starts.
About 250,000 children are brought in for treatment of lead poisoning symptoms each year in the US. Experts say that the actual rate of exposure may be double that. Exposure to lead can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems that effect children throughout their lives.
The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that there are an estimated 24,000 homes and apartments that have dangerously high levels of lead in the paint on their walls. Having homes and apartments tested for the presence of lead paint is costly and is usually out of the reach of budgets of young people starting families. In St. Louis, an initiative has begun that would allow women who were pregnant to apply to have their home tested for the presence of lead for free. This is called the Heavy Metal Project, and it aims to protect the unborn from encountering lead in their living spaces.
This project is being greeted with enthusiasm by the recipients, but not everyone is happy. When the homes are inspected, if they are found to have lead in the window casings, the windows must be replaced, which runs around $6,500. If the paint only contains lead and the windows are safe, this means an investment of $1000. While these figures may not seem prohibitive, the Federal Government has cut funding for testing for the presence of lead and State Governments are scrambling to figure out how to provide testing of home to all the women who have applied.