State looks to bolster lead poisoning surveillance in Hawaii kids

Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 at 5:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some 140 Hawaii children tested positive for dangerously-high levels of lead in their systems over the five-year period ending in 2015, newly-compiled state figures show.

Meanwhile, 1,625 children tested positive for elevated levels of lead.

The statistics, which took the Department of Health nearly a year to compile, offer the first comprehensive look at the issue of lead poisoning in children in the islands.

State officials say a lack of funding and reporting hurdles have prevented the state from more rigorously tracking lead poisoning in Hawaii. The state is trying to address the issue, given increased local and national concerns about lead poisoning.

In recent weeks, the state Health Department has launched new monitoring software to better track cases, and plans to bolster the program that investigates lead poisoning cases.

Compared to other states, Hawaii has a relatively low number of lead poisoning cases.

But officials acknowledge that it's unclear whether lead testing of children is as widespread as it should be.

Dr. Barbara Brooks, of the state Department of Health, said the state simply doesn't know if all eligible children are being tested.

From 2011 to 2015, nearly 60,000 children statewide were tested for lead poisoning.

Of those, about 3 percent tested positive for elevated levels of lead, while about .23 percent had high levels of lead in their blood.

Lead exposure in children can have serious, long-term impacts, including on development and cognition.

Brooks said the state is seeking additional funding to help cover the costs of a lead risk assessor and a lead coordinator, who could go into homes to investigate lead risk factors.

She said the most common causes of lead poisoning are lead paint in homes, and babies mouthing lead costume jewelry or fishing weights.

"We still have children in Hawaii who have too much lead, and we want to get a handle on why," she said.

Island No. of children tested for lead Tested positive for elevated levels of lead Tested positive for high levels of lead
Unknown 3,656 17 8
Oahu 41,136 999 81
Kauai 3,113 145 10
Hawaii 7,366 343 37
Maui 4,123 117 4
Molokai 280 3 0
Lanai 21 1 0
Total 59,695 1,625 140
Source: Hawaii Department of Health

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