ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion is pleased to announce that the VI Department of Health has surpassed its initial goal of screening at least 1,000 St. Croix children aged zero to six for lead exposure. The lead screening effort was in response to the local State of Emergency declared on Oct. 31st, to address possible lead and copper contamination in the potable water system.
“In October we launched an initiative to establish a baseline of current exposure levels which is critical to identifying potential risk to that population,” said Commissioner Encarnacion. “We targeted the most vulnerable population for lead exposure – children aged zero to six – and offered free screening at our base in Estate Richmond, on school campuses and at day cares across the island of St. Croix.”
“What we found is that the lead screening aligns with the results of water sampling and that there is minimal lead in the potable water system,” Commissioner Encarnacion said.
Lead screening began on Oct. 31st with a pilot at the Alfredo Andrews School. Since then, the VI Department of Health’s Epidemiology and Laboratory divisions have screened the zero to six population at every public, private and parochial school and day care that opted in. Children that are home-schooled were also given the opportunity to be tested. The screening was provided at no cost to the child and parental consent was required before the test could be administered.
Lead screening was provided at the Charles Harwood Modulars and at the following schools, day cares and communities that requested services; Alfredo Andrews Elementary School, Lew Muckle Elementary School, Good Hope/Country Day School, Claude O. Markoe Elementary School, St. Croix Montessori School, Ricardo Richards Elementary School, Eulalie Rivera Elementary School, Free Will Baptist School, Star Apple Montessori, Juanita Gardine Elementary School, Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School, School of the Good Shepherd, St. Croix Christian Academy, St. Patrick’s Catholic School, Church of God Holiness School, Reading Rainbow Preschool, La Petite, Profit Hills and Bethlehem Village Community, Lifeline Educational Services, Early Head Start Christiansted, Early Head Start Frederiksted, Inner Changes for Girls and Boys Council, Rattan Montessori School, Clifton Hill, Nurturing Minds, Little Kids Club, and Tenacious Toddlers Learning Center.
As of Friday, Dec. 15th, approximately 1,270 individuals were screened for lead, with two confirmed as positive for lead in the blood, according to Dr. Esther Ellis, Territorial Epidemiologist.
The pediatric blood lead screening, also known as a finger-prick sample, was the first step in checking a child’s blood for lead content. If the finger prick sample yielded positive results, the VI Department of Health promptly contacted the parent or guardian to recommend confirmatory testing through a venous blood draw.
“Part of the department’s response to positive lead cases is also to assess the home to find the source of the lead,” Dr. Ellis said. “We have assessed the homes of both individuals and we found items in both homes containing lead. Tap water testing in both homes for lead contamination is pending to complete the investigation.”
A blood lead test is the best way to find out if a child has lead poisoning. A child with lead poisoning may not have visible signs or symptoms. 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.
In response to concerns about potential high levels of lead in St. Croix’s potable water system, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. declared a State of Emergency on Oct. 31. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the VI Department of Health are leading the response effort, alongside VITEMA and the VI Water and Power Authority.
For concerns related to lead exposure, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. To stay updated on response efforts, please visit www.cleanwaterusvi.com.
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