Healthcare, Latest News

Harrison County WIC continues to offer free lead testing to clients

Harrison County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is taking extra steps to offer free lead testing for WIC clients in response to high levels of lead found in homes in Clarksburg.

The lead testing program was a part of a year-long pilot program that was set to expire June 30. Now, WIC will try to renew the grant for at least one more year of free lead testing.

WIC encourages participants coming in for an appointment to get a blood test for lead.

Staffers also provide education on lead exposure.

Initially, the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department offered free lead testing, but not many residents participated so the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) reached out to WIC to also perform 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.”

The test 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.”

Chad Bundy, executive director of the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department, said anyone can be tested there for lead, but with a focus on children. Appointments can be made by calling 304-623-9308.

And 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 in 2021 by the DHHR in tap water from some households receiving public water from the Clarksburg Water Board.

The eventual goal of the Clarksburg Water Board is to replace the lead water lines, according to information published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2021.

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.

According to information from the Department of Health and Human Resource’s West Virginia Childhood Lead Prevention Program, 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.

The Harrison County WIC office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

It is recommended that patients call ahead at 304-848-9680 to schedule an appointment.

Staff is available to test for lead on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the WIC clinic.

Appointments are every 15 minutes from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3:15 p.m.