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HomeNewsLocal newsHealth Department to Provide Pediatric Lead Testing at Lew Muckle Elementary School

Health Department to Provide Pediatric Lead Testing at Lew Muckle Elementary School

An Alfredo Andrews Elementary School student is tested for lead in the blood. (Photo courtesy of V.I. Health Department)

Beginning Monday, the V.I. Health Department, in cooperation with the V.I. Education Department, will offer pediatric blood lead level testing at the Lew Muckle Elementary School for students six years old and younger, the agencies announced Thursday.

The lead test will be provided at no cost to the child and parental consent is required before the test can be administered, according to the press release.

Last week, the department established a base of operation near its modulars in Estate Richmond to provide lead testing for all children 0 to 6 years of age on St. Croix. However, parent-teacher organizations and legislators have requested that the DOH also begin testing at school campuses. In response, the department’s Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases divisions are reorganizing its team members to offer lead testing at two sites each day — at a school and at its base, the press release stated.

The move comes after tests conducted at the end of September and returned to the territory Oct. 13 showed elevated amounts of lead in 35 of 65 test sites and elevated copper levels at 15 sites on St. Croix. A few test sites revealed dangerously toxic water.

“We understand that many parents are concerned and anxious about their children being exposed to lead and want them tested now,” said V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion. “We are working as quickly as we can to make the pediatric lead testing as accessible as possible. We ask parents for their patience and cooperation as we work to provide lead testing at schools and in communities impacted by the lead contamination,” she said.

Additionally, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has directed the DOH to include other health-related activities while it conducts pediatric lead testing at elementary schools. The department is including physical and behavioral health education through the Maternal Child Health and Behavioral Health divisions, the release stated.

Parents or guardians must register their child and give consent on the DOH’s registration portal, Lead Testing Gateway | Beacon USVI.

The pediatric blood lead test, also known as a finger-prick sample, is the first step in checking a child’s blood for lead content. If the finger prick test yields positive results, the DOH will promptly contact the parent or guardian to recommend follow-up testing through a venous blood draw, according to the release.

A blood lead test is the best way to find out if a child has lead poisoning, the department said. A child with lead poisoning may not have visible signs or symptoms, and many children who have lead poisoning look and act healthy. Children under the age of six are still developing rapidly, and lead exposure can adversely affect their brain, nervous system, growth, development, and overall behavior, it said.

Lead exposure, which can begin in the womb and continue through early childhood, has been linked to attention deficits, hyperactivity, and lowered IQ levels in children. Early identification of lead in the blood is key to reducing the long-term effects of lead exposure. Often, lead poisoning may not manifest visible symptoms, making blood lead tests crucial for diagnosis, the release stated.

The pediatric lead testing is part of the department’s “Safe Haven — A Lead-Free Families Initiative,” program which aims to test 1,000 children on St. Croix to establish a baseline of current exposure levels as the territory progresses toward a lead-free future, it said.

Testing Results

Lew Muckle is the second elementary school on St. Croix to receive free pediatric lead testing. Last week, the DOH tested 64 Alfredo Andrews Elementary School students from Granny Pre-K, first and second grade. To date, the Epidemiology Division has tested 85 children, with 84 negative results and one suspected positive identified, according to the release.

In response to concerns about elevated levels of lead and copper in St. Croix’s potable water system, Bryan declared a State of Emergency on Oct. 31. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the DOH are leading the response effort, alongside VITEMA and the V.I. Water and Power Authority, it said.

Residents with health concerns related to lead exposure and testing may call the V.I. Health Department hotlines from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For assistance, contact 340-712-6299 or 340-776-1519.

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