Primary prevention of childhood lead poisoning through community outreach.WMJ. 2001; 100(8):48-54.WMJ
The prevalence of childhood lead poisoning has substantially decreased in Milwaukee, Wisconsin over the past decade. Nevertheless, by the mid 1990s, 30% of children were still found to have elevated blood levels.
To extend the reach of the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD) to previously underserved families in 1 inner city neighborhood with extremely old housing, the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center (SSCHC) implemented, in 1995, the Community Lead Outreach Project (CLOP). Going door-to-door, CLOP attempted to identify children 6 months to 6 years old with elevated blood lead levels (BLL), referring those > or = 20 micrograms/dL to MHD and enrolling those with BLLs 10-19 micrograms/dL in a program of prevention education and environmental clean-up with the specific aim of preventing BLLs increasing to 20 micrograms/dL and above.
A team of community outreach workers led by a nurse-coordinator visited, over a 4-year period, families in their homes in 13 census tracts surrounding the SSCHC. During the home visits, capillary blood samples for BLLs were drawn, environmental assessments and scoring were conducted, lead poisoning prevention education provided and repair and cleaning of household lead hazards demonstrated. For control and comparison, BLL data for the entire city by ZIP Code and provider were obtained from the Milwaukee Health Department. Odds ratios for changes in the proportions of children screened > or = 10 micrograms/dL were calculated and compared for the years 1996 through 1999. The odds ratios of changes for various populations were compared for significant differences using tests of homogeneity. To control for age confounding, proportions of elevated BBLs for all groups and for all years were age-standardized, using the direct method.
Over the entire study, 20.9% of the children screened had BLLs > or = 10 micrograms/dL and 3.0% were > or = 20 micrograms/dL. For 395 children with BLLs 10-19 micrograms/dL enrolled in the CLOP follow-up program, the mean BLL was 12.9 micrograms/dL. Mean levels at the first, second and third follow-up visits were 10.8, 10.3 and 9.8 micrograms/dL respectively, showing an overall decline of 3.1 micrograms/dL or 24%. At the first follow-up visit, 97% of the children tested were < 20 micrograms/dL while 76% were < 10 micrograms/dL. By the second follow-up visit, 100% were < 20 micrograms/dL. Initial environmental scores averaged 24.7, declining to 19.0 at first, 17.8 at second and 14.8 at third follow-up visits. For the entire CLOP population, the proportion of children testing > 10 micrograms/dL declined each year from 46.3% in 1996 to 22.5% in 1999. The geographic area in which CLOP operated recorded the highest screening penetration rate in the city: 61%. The odds ratio for CLOP clients to have elevated blood lead levels at the end of the study period, in contrast with the beginning, was 0.34 compared to 0.55 for the entire city and 0.75 for private physicians serving the same general population. Comparison of odds ratios showed the CLOP target population enjoyed a decrease in rate of elevated BLL 1.6 times that of the city-wide average, p-value = 0.016 and more than double that of the patients of area private providers.
We conclude that the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center Childhood Lead Outreach Project has successfully accessed populations of children with high rates of lead poisoning who had escaped more traditional screening venues and effectively intervened to reduce their BLLs to < 10 micrograms/dL. Moreover, CLOP produced impressive and unanticipated primary prevention benefits in the community at large. The demonstrated ability of community outreach workers to access high-risk populations and reduce exposure to lead hazards suggests the potential of this strategy for extension to other geographic areas, to the patients of private physicians and to address other prevalent, urban health problems like asthma, injuries and violence.