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The potential is all around us: A local look at lead poisoning numbers in kids

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Elkhart County's Chief Health Officer says lead poisoning in kids is a real concern. In Indiana, only seven percent of kids were tested for lead poisoning in 2014, and children in Elkhart and St Joseph County accounted for many of those tests.

The water crisis in Flint is drawing attention to this problem, but many kids don't getting lead poisoning from water. The potential for lead poisoning is all around us, from ceramic dishes we bake in, to jewelry, to paint chips.

The Hunt family in Elkhart is constantly reminded of the their past each time they step foot on their porch.

"It wasn't on the plan to rebuild our porch when we first got here but it became one," said Anthony Hunt.

Their youngest son, Sylus, tested positive for lead poisoning almost ten years ago. They didn't know where it came from, until they saw him eating a chip of paint from the porch.

"It turned out that all of our children were poisoned," said Hunt. "Just in that one year we were in this house."

More than half of homes in Elkhart, and nearly 70 percent of homes in St. Joseph County, were built before the 1970s when people didn't realize the danger of lead based paint.

"Kids absorb lead better than adults do and so if they're exposed to those paint hazards they tend to absorb more of it through their digestive system and then they wind up lead poisoned," said Elkhart County Health Officer Dr. Dan Nafziger.

Dishes, bathtubs, toys and dogs tracking in contaminated dirt could potentially be a hazard inside a home, according to the Elkhart County Health Department.

Elkhart County has specifically seen poisoning from Mexican candy, toys manufactured outside the United States, and imported ceramic dishes.

The problem is there are few symptoms if your child has lead poisoning, and kids up to age five are most at risk. Doctors said parents should be concerned and should get their kids tested every year.

"If you're waiting until kids actually have behavior changes or seizures or something like that, you've waited way too long and they're going to have sustained some injury," said Dr. Nafziger.

A child can lose IQ points and even develop psychological symptoms if they are exposed to too much lead. It's a problem the Hunt family hopes to prevent for anyone else.

"You can lose IQ enough that you can't recover," said Hunt. "And that's kind of a painful sentence to impose on your child because you didn't know and all you were doing was fixing up the house."

The Hunt family was one of 300 families that received a grant from Elkhart County. That grant paid for some lead-removal in their home, but it still cost them thousands of dollars.

The grant ran out in 2015 and the county was not awarded any additional grant money.

Doctors say it's important to get your child tested every year until age 5 because that's when they're most susceptible. But it's the responsibility of the parent to be sure their child gets tested.

"Every place is different," said Dr. Melissa Hickey with the South Bend Clinic. "If a patient happens to go to a physician that doesn't offer that, they can also contact the health department."

If you have lead based paint or other lead items in your home, the health department says to keep surfaces clean using a "wet cleaning" method. The agency also offers a list of free services listed on their website HERE.

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