Health officials testing patients for lead despite ending prevention program

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Mention the word lead and immediate panic sets in. Include the words prevention program and calm returns.  Most counties in Michigan like to join the words together. But Dr. Gillian Stoltman said budget cuts have forced several counties, like Kalamazoo, to close their programs.

“I know decisions like that are not made easily,” said Stoltman, officer and director with the Health and Community Services in Kalamazoo. “I also know that we weren’t alone, that there were a number of other counties that cut back on their lead program or eliminated them.”

She said that only a handful of counties have a program. Nonetheless, doctors are doing what they can to make sure lead levels do not appear in patients. The Health and Community Services office on Gull Road has a WIC program — women, infants an children — that includes lead testing.

“If those children have Medicaid, have a medical provider, then the medical provider, the pediatrician, arranges that,” said Stoltman. “But it's something that we check to make sure that they’re done. So, it's a component of our WIC program.”

Stoltman added that the City of Kalamazoo is doing their part to ensure that water is safe. The city recently issued a report saying that two zip codes had isolated lead levels similar to those in Flint. But they were anomalies. The levels stemmed from an outside hose, a vacant house and a utility sink with solder.

“The situation in Flint is, I can’t say it's unique, but it’s not one we see here in Kalamazoo,” said Stoltman. “The municipalities around here do test water regularly, and their levels are below the EPA standards.”

Stoltman said that our major concern should be all the old houses people live in that were built decades ago. The interiors of most of those houses are covered with lead-based paint.

“If some of the houses have been renovated, there may be lead dust that got into the soil and carpet if they haven’t been properly remediated,” said Stoltman. “And the other thing is they may still have lead pipes.”

Replacing new pipes can be expensive, Stoltman admits. She encourages residents to let the water run for a few minutes  before using it.

“The city recommends running it until cold, because if it’s still warm then it’s been sitting in the pipes for a while,” said Stoltman. “If it’s cold, it’s had time to flush through the pipes.”

She also recommends taking care of yourself and watching what you eat.

“Also things such as good nutrition can help if there is in any lead in the water, that can help the body, in particularly the young children to not have the same effects from the lead,” said Stoltman. “There’s a number of things that people can do but people need to know that information”

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