Delay in testing for SCS students potentially exposed to lead at school

Updated: Dec. 10, 2019 at 6:41 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tuesday was supposed to begin the in-school testing window for thousands of Shelby County Schools' students who may have been exposed to lead at school. But we've learned that testing has been delayed.

Last week, the Shelby County Health Department said the testing window was set to begin Dec. 10. But Tuesday afternoon Shelby County Schools told WMC Action News 5 the testing has not started, and they’re working to review all opt-in forms and documents.

“Once all of the documentation is vetted, we will work to confirm a schedule and notify families and staff of the time and date when their school will participate in the screenings,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

In November, Shelby County Schools said 35 campuses tested positive for lead in water sources like fountains or sinks. The district said the devices weren’t regularly in use and that contributed to the build-up. SCS removed them from service.

Shelby County Commissioners approved $80,000 for testing for affected students and staff.

The in-school testing is expected to impact roughly 19,000 students and 900 faculty members. The health department sent information home with parents along with questionnaires and a permission form. Parents do not have to be present for testing.

The first step is a finger prick. If positive, health officials will then draw blood to confirm.

“If they find out their child tests positive, I do think there should be a high level of concern,” said Dr. Jason Yaun, associate professor at UTHSC/Le Bonheur, “After a child has been exposed to lead, unfortunately, the outcomes are what they are. We definitely want to reduce the exposure and reduce that. But we can’t reverse those outcomes.”

Yaun said childhood exposure to lead can impact cognitive function, enough to lower a person’s IQ. He said there are 200,000 homes in Shelby County where children are at high risk of lead exposure, from lead paint, dust, and even water.

Last week, the city announced it received a federal grant for $5.6 million to identify and remove lead paint hazards in homes.

“All of those, where children are living or playing, can be significant risks for young children,” he said.

The health department said the testing window is expected to run from December until the first quarter of 2020. A spokesperson said the delay Tuesday was because of paperwork that has yet to be signed, which they didn’t know when they sent a news release last week. It’s possible the testing may start this week or next week.

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