Originally created 02/09/00

Lead poisoning cases scrutinized



Most of Augusta's incidents of lead poisoning continue to occur in 30901, 30904 and 30906 ZIP code areas, health officials said Tuesday.

"As we see it, it is a public health problem," said Dr. William Weston, a primary care consultant for the health department.

Dr. Weston said the most recent case of lead poisoning was reported by Medical College of Georgia Hospital staff early Tuesday."We have curtailed it, but it hasn't gone away."

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program gave the results of a cross-sectional, retrospective study conducted in the area during the Richmond County Board of Health meeting Tuesday.

Low-level exposure has more subtle effects on children, including behavior disorders, hyper activity and poor school performance, said Dr. Weston, who is part of a team that includes public health nurses, environmentalists and regional coordinator Andrea Washington.

Based on a scale created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead content in a patient's blood is considered a risk at level 10. And at level 20, the patient is considered poisoned.

Levels as high as 44 have been discovered in patients who live in the downtown area, Ms. Washington said. However, no deaths have been connected to lead poisoning in Augusta since 1954.

Coated with lead-based paint, houses built before the 1950s are the source of several of the lead poisonings reported locally. And batteries are a lesser-known culprit, according to the report.

Dr. Weston said that the 30906 ZIP code area -- an area with few old homes -- was added to the affected areas recently.

A statewide study was conducted with the CDC from 1992 to 1997 and showed the correlation between the old houses and the communities with high incidents of lead poisoning.

"We thought we had something to hang our hat on," Dr. Weston said. "30906 didn't have as many old houses, but there are more houses. Poverty, high mobility, limited resources... there must be other factors."

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.