Symptoms of lead poisoning may be hard to spot

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Elevated lead levels are earning national attention, but health experts warn the symptoms may be hard to spot.

“Unfortunately, you can’t just spot lead poisoning. A child has to be tested in order to see what their lead levels are, because the symptoms of lead poisoning can really reflect the flu or anything else kids will get…. stomach aches, they’re tired, cranky,” said Kathleen Flynn, lead case manager at the Rock Island County Health Department.

Every Wednesday, Flynn receives a new report that lists lead testing results for the county’s children. She’s currently monitoring around 45 cases where kids have tested at a level of 10 or above.

Illinois requires lead testing for all children at 12 and 24 months old. In Iowa, children are required to have at least one lead test before entering kindergarten.

If left untreated, Flynn says the long-term effects of lead exposure can be serious.

“Learning disabilities, severe behavioral problems, nervous system damage, kidney problems, it can even result in death,” said Flynn.

In cities like Flint, Michigan, and Galesburg, Illinois, the response has focused on the water supply. However, Flynn says the most common culprit isn’t water — it’s paint.

“As we know, children under six have a lot of hand-mouth activity,” said Flynn. “Window sills a lot of time have peeling or chipping paint, and it creates dust. So there may be paint chips on the ground or just dust, and they do eat it, or even just licking their fingers or toys that have the lead dust on it.”

Families in Moline, East Moline, Rock Island and Sterling may be eligible to have the lead removed from their home for free through the Healthy Homes Program.

To qualify, your home must be built before 1978. A child under the age of six must live in the home or spend 200 hours or more there, or the family must be expecting the birth of a child. Household income must be at or below 80 percent of area median income.

For more information or to apply, call K.J. Whitley at the City of Moline at 309-524-2044 or email

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