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Hennepin County addressing a danger problem many thought was solved: lead poisoning in children

Between 100 and 200 young children in Hennepin County are diagnosed with lead poisoning every year. It’s a diagnosis that can create profound lifelong and irreversible health issues.


Lead exposure and poisoning remains a very real danger even though lead paint has been banned in the United States since 1978.


“Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and other organs in the body. It can cause problems with hearing and vision, and attention, behavior and learning deficits,” said Hennepin County public health nurse Amy Waller.


Lead paint is still on the exterior and interior walls and woodwork in many older homes in Minnesota. Even if the lead paint is painted over, when paint peels, flakes or chips, it can create a fine lead dust that gets on floors and window sills that young children, who put everything in their mouths, can easily ingest.


That presents the danger of lead exposure or poisoning that fast-developing children aged six and younger are most vulnerable to.


“It’s tricky because we don’t always see the problems as they are occurring. We’re not aware of it until it is too late,” said Waller.


In Minnesota, pediatricians routinely screen all children for lead at their one-year and two-year checkups. Waller routinely works with Hennepin County families when a child has been found to have high lead levels.


“You can request to have someone come to your home to look for lead paint. If you have old windows that is worth looking into,” she said. “Lead paint has a really signature way of peeling when it’s deteriorated. It looks like alligator skin, with little rectangles. If you see that, it’s a good way to suspect it’s lead paint.”


Being suspicious that there might be lead paint in an older home might prompt some parents to want to strip any surface that might be painted. Waller cautions against taking that step and recommends leaving the removal to qualified professionals.


“Paint scraping or sanding or tearing out walls during remodeling can stir up lead that is still there,” she warned.  “If you don’t know if it’s lead paint or not, it’s a good idea to get your house tested. Not all peeling paint is lead paint. The only way to know it’s there is to have it tested with a special machine that can test through all layers of the paint.” Residents of Hennepin County can request free in home lead testing and assessments performed by trained and vetted professionals.


Hennepin County also offers eligible homeowners up to $15,000 in grants to pay the cost of lead paint removal in homes with children under six or where young children are frequent visitors.


The grant often covers the removal and replacement of old windows with new energy efficient windows. As part of the grant program, the county also covers the cost for families to stay in a hotel while the work is being done by trained contractors.


To find out more about health and environmental dangers and lead removal testing and removal and the grant options, you can learn more at


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