DOH Expands Pediatric Lead Screening, Outreach Efforts in St. Thomas-St. John District

V.I. Health Commissioner Justa E. Encarnacion provides updates about pediatric blood tests to check for lead exposure. (Photo courtesy of Facebook live stream)

The V.I. Department of Health’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Divisions are expanding pediatric lead screening to the St. Thomas-St. John district in a continuing effort to develop a baseline of exposure for children 0 to 6 years old – the most vulnerable population.

“This extension is part of the V.I. Department of Health’s “Safe Haven – Lead-Free Families” initiative and the goal is to build a future free of lead in the territory,” said V.I. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion. “While we feel confident that the territory’s public water system does not contain high levels of lead, we know that there are several other sources of lead such as paint, toys and jewelry. Completing St. Thomas-St. John district screening gives us a total picture and helps inform future planning efforts to address lead exposure.”

The current schedule for pediatric lead screening in the St. Thomas-St. John district is as follows:

Tuesday, Jan. 30: V.I. Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy

Wednesday, Jan. 31: Yvonne Milliner Bowsky Elementary

Thursday, Feb. 1: Joseph Sibilly Elementary/Sugar Apple Pre-K

Friday, Feb. 2: Joseph Gomez Elementary

Monday, Feb. 5: Ula F. Muller Elementary

Tuesday, Feb. 6: Julius E. Sprauve Elementary

Wednesday, Feb. 7: Lockhart Elementary

Thursday, Feb. 8: Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School

February 14: Newton Academy

February 14: Minds in Motion

February 15: Sunbeam Preschool

February 15: Sunshine Bear Daycare and Preschool

February, 15: UVI Inclusive Child Care

February 16: Beyond Bright Daycare

February 16: Handy Spandy Preschool

The Epidemiology Division is working to schedule other schools interested in lead screening.

For more information, call the V.I. Department of Health hotline at 712-6299. Pediatric lead screening is provided at no cost, and parental consent is required before the test can be administered.

The pediatric blood lead screening, 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 a “detected pending confirmation” result, the Department of Health will promptly contact the parent or guardian to recommend follow-up testing through a venous blood draw. If the venous blood draw is positive, the department then assesses the home to find the source of the lead.

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.

Last month, the V.I. Department of Health surpassed its initial goal of screening at least 1,000 Crucian children six years and younger for lead exposure. The Department of Health’s Epidemiology and Laboratory divisions provided screening at 26 sites including at public, private and parochial schools, daycares, child-centered non-profit organizations and within communities.

To date, 1,270 individuals have been screened for lead exposure with three confirmed as positive for lead in the blood, according to Dr. Esther Ellis, territorial epidemiologist. Three individuals tested positive for lead via a venous blood draw.

“Boots on the Ground,” a multi-departmental community outreach effort to support the water emergency response, is also expanding to the St. Thomas-St. John district and, in partnership with V.I. Housing Authority, will visit housing communities across the islands. Outreach will begin on Jan. 31.

The Department of Health’s response effort began following the local State of Emergency declaration on Oct. 31, to address possible lead and copper contamination in the public water system. Subsequent comprehensive water sampling on St. Croix found low to undetectable levels of lead in the potable water system.

Gov. Bryan, during his sixth State of the Territory Address on Monday, announced the lifting of the “No Drink Advisory” for St. Croix’s public water system.

For more information about lead exposure, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.