Georgia’s work to eliminate lead poisoning is earning accolades from states around the country. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) recently recognized Georgia’s ability to ensure continuity of service to lead-poisoned children in light of significant federal budget cuts. The Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH), Environmental Health, Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (GHHPPP) is responsible for making housing safe for families at risk for health problems from lead. GHHPPP partners with all 18 public health Districts in Georgia to eliminate childhood lead poisoning and other hazards found in the home.
The GHHPPP team has made 120 houses lead safe in Savannah using funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Savannah is the highest risk public health area in the state because it has the oldest homes. The lead risk inspections and risk activities are focused on homes where children are exposed and face the greatest danger of lead poisoning.
“Childhood lead poisoning is a significant public health issue affecting the health and well-being of Georgia’s most vulnerable population - children,” said R. Chris Rustin, DrPH, MS, REHS, director, DPH Environmental Health Section. “A strong statewide lead and healthy homes program is a priority of Environmental Health in preventing at risk children from becoming lead poisoned and ensuring children who are exposed receive necessary case management, home inspections, and education to eliminate the source of lead and prevent future exposures.”
The first step to a healthier home is recognizing environmental hazards and exposure to lead, which can affect almost every system in the body. Even at low levels, lead poisoning has been linked to lower IQ and academic achievement, reduced cognitive function, and behavioral and attention problems. Lead exposure is also a health equity issue, as it impacts children in low-income communities at higher rates than children in higher income neighborhoods. Homeowners and renters alike may not have the knowledge or resources to eliminate the sources of lead in their homes.
GHHPPP has maintained a steady focus on removing hazards from homes although $500,000 in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was eliminated in 2012 for childhood lead poisoning prevention. While lead poisoning is a mandated reportable illness and requires active surveillance and environmental inspections, this funding cut resulted in staff reductions at the State and District levels.
When federal funds were cut, DPH’s EH Section was able to sustain services through identifying state funding for a program manager and epidemiologist, reestablishing Medicaid reimbursement to offset the cost for lead inspections, and obtain grant funding from HUD. This allowed EH to train and certify at least one EH specialist in each District as a Lead Inspector/Risk Assessor and Healthy Home Specialist and to build lead and healthy homes inspection capacity in all 18 public health Districts.
EH is committed to ensuring the prevention and ultimate elimination of childhood lead poisoning in Georgia. If your home or apartment building was built before 1978 or you have concerns about lead in your environment, visit www.dph.ga.gov/lead-faq to access resources and information to protect you and your family.
Margaret Gunter, Lead Program Consultant, Georgia Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Section