Job action: The county health department must get the lead out

Written by Susan Mannella on .

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That's an adage that should resonate with health professionals and advice the Allegheny County Health Department should follow at its Clack Health Center in Lawrenceville.

Tests in the offices of the county's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program there, taken in August, showed levels of lead dust that were more than a thousand times higher than what is considered a safe exposure level for children. Although tests conducted earlier this month did not show rates as high, they remained well above recommended levels.

That's more than ironic. It could be dangerous.

The offices are in Building One in the complex, which is badly deteriorating with lead-based paint peeling, leaky roofs, drafty windows and other maintenance problems. Children who visit the county offices for blood tests are at minimal risk because they aren't in the office for long, but workers are rightly concerned because they spend considerable time at their desks.

Flaking lead paint is dangerous because exposure, through either ingestion or inhalation of airborne particles, can cause lead poisoning. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead is more dangerous to children, first because they're more likely to be exposed by putting their hands or other objects in their mouths after exposure to lead dust, and second, because their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects. Although the impact is less pronounced, adults can experience hypertension, high blood pressure, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain and have trouble concentrating as a result of lead exposure.

Nevertheless, Health Director Dr. Bruce Dixon maintains that workers face "no health hazard," and the county has no plans to alter what he described as a multi-year effort to remove lead paint from window trim and peeling surfaces in the building. He said the county will offer blood tests for employees who want them because they're worried about lead exposure.

That's not good enough. The county's employees deserve as much protection as they provide to the public in aggressively combating dangerous exposure to lead. They deserve to work in a safe environment today, not years from now.


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