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Illinois Department of Public Health adds 148 high-risk zip codes to lead testing list

Theen Moy Photography

Lead Program Manager Kurt McAfee says the Illinois Dept. of Public Health aims to include the entire state by July 1st, 2026.

The IDPH says no lead levels are safe in your environment, but state-wide testing sets a limit of five micrograms per deciliter before a public health intervention.

"Of course, we always think zero should be that level, but if we found ourselves at zero, there's background levels whether it be from houses, or from industry or from poorly maintained commercial or industrial area...lead is pervasive," McAfee said.

He says the department is working on meeting the CDC's level of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter by the beginning of 2025.

McAfee says most healthcare providers administer a capillary sample, a finger prick. If the blood count returns over five, the provider will take more blood through a vein for confirmation. The provider and the IDPH will work with the family to find the cause of the lead contact.

"So if a child lives in a house that was built before 1978, which is when the federal ban on lead-based paint was put into effect, then that was one factor put in our algorithm," McAfee said. "It was double-weighted because there are so many instances where I'd say 98% of the instances we find is when a child is exposed to things in their environment. It's not about terrible upkeep on a house, things as simple as having old windows being opened and closed..microscopic dust where kids are pulling themselves through."

According to McAfee, the central office in Springfield employs seven people, half of whom are data analysts. It also includes an education coordinator and case management staff that can help with home visits. He says the IDPH is fortunate to have local departments assist as they only have two nurses for the whole state.

McAfee says the high-risk areas require child lead testing, as families would be unaware of lead in their system without such a test. Residents can preemptively contact a third party to test their homes, but it'll cost the owner. Those interested can find the affected zip codes on their website. The newly added zip codes are within the counties of Carroll, Henry, Jo Daviess, Rock Island, and Whiteside.

Brady is a 2021 Augustana College graduate majoring in Multimedia Journalism-Mass Communication and Political Science. Over the last eight years, he has reported in central Illinois at various media outlets, including The Peoria Journal Star, WCBU Peoria Public Radio, Advanced Media Partners, and WGLT Bloomington-Normal's Public Media.