(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Young children and pregnant women can get tested for lead at a free upcoming Erie County event.

Free lead screening is available for children aged five and younger, and for pregnant women, at an event on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Blasco Library from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and at the Erie County Department of Health from 3 to 5 p.m.

Health educators will be at the event answering questions and providing information on lead poisoning. There will also be games, snacks and giveaways.

The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Erie’s Lead Hazard Control program website states Erie County has the 10th highest number of childhood lead poisonings annually, with poisonings at a rate over 1.5 times higher than Flint, Michigan. It also states three times more black children and 1.5 times more Hispanic children are poisoned than white children.

“We want to raise awareness to reduce childhood exposure to lead, and getting our children tested is one of the most important steps we can take to eliminate lead poisoning,” said Holly Cook, Director of Program Administration of the Redevelopment Authority.

Although the government banned the use of lead-based paint in 1978, it can still be found in many older homes. Many of the oldest homes in Erie County date back to the early 20th century or prior, according to the Redevelopment Authority, which makes it strongly probable that those homes once contained —or may still contain — lead-based paint.

“According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of homes built before 1940 and 24% of homes built between 1960-1978 contain lead-based paint. Many of the oldest homes in Erie County were built during these times and earlier, which makes it strongly probable that they once or may still contain lead-based paint,” said Cook. 

Lead is toxic and can seriously harm the health of young children because their bodies are still developing, including babies even before they are born.

When lead is breathed in or swallowed, it can result in damage to the brain and nervous system, which leads to heart and/or kidney problems, slow or delayed speech and motor skills, behavioral issues, and difficulty learning.

A child with lead poisoning may not have visible signs or symptoms; a blood test is the best way to find out if a child has lead poisoning.

Lead can be found inside and outside homes, including in the soil around homes from exterior paint or other sources.

Thursday’s event is organized by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Erie and the Erie County Department of Health.

For more information on the lead hazard control program, call 814-870-1540 or visit redeveloperie.org. Visit the CDC website for more information on lead poisoning and how to prevent it.