MCHD WIC offering lead testing to Harrison County participants
Feb. 17, 2023
By Katie Minor
Harrison County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is offering free lead testing for WIC clients as part of a year-long pilot program in response to high levels of lead found in homes in Clarksburg.
WIC will allow participants coming in for an appointment to do a blood test for lead and provide education on lead exposure.
Initially, the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department was offering free lead testing, but not many residents were participating. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) then reached out to WIC to perform the lead testing.
“With WIC, people are coming in and we have them face-to-face, so maybe we would have a better chance of getting a lead test completed and letting them know their results,” said Camilla Haught, dietitian and program manager at Monongalia County Health Department (MCHD) WIC, which oversees WIC offices in six counties, including Harrison.
“We provide education as well, such as about sources of lead like lead paint and other things they might not be aware of in their home, and education on foods that can help decrease the absorption of lead,” she added.
The test just requires a finger prick, Haught noted. “It takes about three minutes to get a result and it will let them know their reading. But it can be hard to get a small child to stay still for a finger prick. It’s much easier for an adult.”
Brandi Braddock, a pregnant WIC client, never had her blood tested for lead before going to WIC at the Bridgeport location. “They told me they offered lead testing and I thought I better be more safe than sorry, especially with me being pregnant,” Braddock said.
Said Braddock: “The test was easy. They just needed to prick my finger for blood. It comes back within five minutes.”
Braddock tested negative for elevated levels of lead in her blood, but she is still happy she chose to get tested. “I’m such a worrywart, especially with this being my first kid, so I’m glad I didn’t have lead or anything like that.”
While it is most helpful to get children tested for lead, anyone in the household who goes to the WIC office with their child can also be tested for free.
“If a mom is interested in checking her levels of lead, or if a grandma comes in as a caregiver, anyone in that WIC appointment can be checked,” said Jason Nguyen, MCHD WIC nutritionist.
WIC is also providing free education about lead poisoning to those coming in for an appointment.
“Nutrition counseling for protecting yourself from lead exposure is focusing on a variety of healthy foods,” Nguyen said. “The three main nutrients are iron, calcium and vitamin C.” Many foods with these nutrients can be found in WIC food packages.
The lead testing program was founded in response to elevated levels of lead identified by the DHHR in tap water from some households receiving public water from the Clarksburg Water Board in 2021, Nguyen added.
The city previously combated this issue by delivering free water filtration pitchers to thousands of homes in Clarksburg. The eventual goal of the Clarksburg Water Board is to replace the lead water lines.
People most likely to be impacted by lead poisoning are residents who receive water from Clarksburg's water system through a lead service line or with internal plumbing assembled with lead-based solder.
Exposure to lead can have serious effects on one’s health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, hearing and speech problems, impaired cognitive abilities, behavior issues, stunted growth and development and decreased focus and attention.
The greatest risk is to infants, young children and pregnant women. There is no safe level of lead for children. Even low levels of lead in the blood can have lifelong effects on health.
Other ways residents can reduce their risk of lead is by only drinking or using tap water that has been run through a filter to reduce or eliminate lead. They should also drink or cook only with cold tap water; water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can have higher levels of lead. Boiling this water will not reduce the amount of lead in water. Before drinking, flush pipes by running the tap, taking a shower, doing laundry or doing a load of dishes.
WIC clients can make an appointment to be tested by calling the WIC office in Harrison County at (304) 848-9680.
Non-WIC clients can still go to the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department or to their pediatrician's office for a lead test. To make an appointment at the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department, call 304-623-9308.
Pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding mothers as well as children up to their fifth birthday who qualify can take advantage of the WIC program, which provides nutrition and breastfeeding counseling and education; as well as health monitoring and nutritious foods.
WIC provides nutrition, breastfeeding support, health education and other services, free of charge, to pregnant women, mothers, infants and children up to the age of 5 who qualify. Eligibility guidelines can be found at monchd.org/departments-programs/pages/wic-eligibility-guidelines.
Monongalia County Health Department WIC operates the program in Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Taylor counties.
Katie Minor is the assistant public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.