Lead is a very strong poison. When a person swallows a lead object or inhales lead dust, some of the poison can stay in the body and cause serious health problems. A single high, toxic dose of lead can cause severe emergency symptoms. However, it is more common for lead poisoning to build up slowly over time. This occurs from repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. In this case, there may not be any obvious symptoms, but the lead can still cause serious health problems over time, such as difficulty sleeping or lowered IQ in children.
Lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children's developing nerves and brains. The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be. Unborn children are the most vulnerable.
Children get lead in their bodies when they put lead objects in their mouths, especially if they swallow the lead object. They can even get lead poison on their fingers from touching a dusty or peeling lead object, and then putting their fingers in their mouths or eating food afterward. Tiny amounts of lead can also be inhaled.
Lead is found in:
- House paint before 1978. Even if the paint is not peeling, it can be a problem. Lead paint is very dangerous when it is being stripped or sanded. These actions release fine lead dust into the air. Infants and children living in pre-1960's housing (when paint often contained lead) have the highest risk of lead poisoning. Small children often swallow paint chips or dust from lead-based paint.
- Toys and furniture painted before 1976.
- Painted toys and decorations made outside the U.S.
- Lead bullets, fishing sinkers, curtain weights.
- Plumbing, pipes, faucets. Lead can be found in drinking water in homes whose pipes were connected with lead solder. While new building codes require lead-free solder, lead is still found in some modern faucets.
- Soil contaminated by decades of car exhaust or years of house paint scrapings. Thus, lead is more common in soil near highways and houses.
- Hobbies involving soldering, stained glass, jewelry making, pottery glazing, miniature lead figures (always look at labels).
- Children's paint sets and art supplies (always look at labels).
- Pewter pitchers and dinnerware.
- Storage batteries.
There are many possible symptoms of lead poisoning. Lead can affect many different parts of the body. Over time, even low levels of lead exposure can harm a child's mental development. The possible health problems get worse as the level of lead in the blood gets higher. Possible complications include:
- Reduced IQ
- Slowed body growth
- Hearing problems
- Behavior or attention problems
- Failure at school
- Kidney damage
The symptoms of lead poisoning may include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Low appetite and energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sensations
- Loss of previous developmental skills (in young children)
- Abdominal pain and cramping (usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poison)
- Very high levels may cause vomiting, staggering gait, muscle weakness, seizures, or coma
Ways to reduce your exposure to lead:
- Keep your home as dust free as possible.
- Everyone should wash their hands before eating.
- Throw out old painted toys if you do not know whether the paint contains lead.
- Let tap water run for a minute before drinking or cooking with it.
- If your water has been tested high in lead, consider installing an effective filtering device or switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking.
- Avoid canned goods from foreign countries until the ban on lead soldered cans goes into effect.
- If imported wine containers have a lead foil wrapper, wipe the rim and neck of the bottle with a towel moistened with lemon juice, vinegar, or wine before using.
- Don't store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, as lead can leach out into the liquid.
Lead Testing: All children should have lead test done at 1 year of age. All children should be screened to find out if they are exposed to lead on a regular basis. If they are those children may require additional and more frequent testing.
Hancock Public Health Services, through the Grants-to-Counties program, provides free residential water well testing services to anyone who owns or utilizes a private water supply.
This service includes:
- A well assessment
- Sample collection from a location where most of the residential drinking water is obtained (usually the kitchen sink)
- Sample submission to University Hygienic Laboratory
- Results sent to the home
Residential water wells are sampled for nitrates and coliform bacteria.
Public Health provides approximately 150 free well tests per year on a first come, first serve basis. If you would like to have your water sampled, please contact Hancock Public Health Services.
The Consumer Information Booklet and Pages links can be found in Additional Resources.
Nonpublic Water Well Construction
Environmental Health inspectors evaluate and inspect the construction of any nonpublic water supplies within Hancock County. This serves to protect your drinking water with appropriate construction and location of water wells. All nonpublic water well Permits must be in accordance to Chapter 38 of the Iowa Administrative Code, and all Nonpublic water wells must be constructed in accordance to Chapter 49 of the Iowa Administrative Code. A permit is required for all new Nonpublic wells drilled within county limits.
Permit cost for a new well is $175.00.
The Well Permit Application and other resources can be found in Additional Resources.
Private Water Well Reconstruction
Wells which are located in a frost pit are more susceptible to contamination than wells that terminate above ground. Therefore Hancock Public Health Services, through the Grants-to-Counties program, provides up to $600.00 for the reconstruction of nonpublic water wells. Reconstruction according to Iowa Administrative Code Chapter 49 is defined as follows: “modification of the original construction of a well. “Well reconstruction” includes, but is not limited to, deepening the well, installing a liner, installing or replacing a screen with one of a different diameter or length, installing a pitless adapter, extending the casing, or hydrofracturing a well. Replacing a screen with one of identical diameter and length or replacing a pitless adapter is considered repair, not reconstruction”. To qualify for reimbursement you must first contact the Hancock County Environmental Health Specialist and you must also have the work completed by a certified well driller and a certified pump installer.
For more information click on the link below:
Iowa DNR certified well contractors and certified well drillers
The Private Well Reconstruction Application link can be found in Additional Resources.
Abandoned Well Plugging
Abandoned water wells and cisterns provide a direct route for contaminants to reach our groundwater and are required by the State of Iowa to be properly plugged according to the specifications listed in Chapter 39 of the Iowa Administrative Code to prevent groundwater contamination. Hancock County, through the Grants-To-Counties program, provides up to $300.00 for the plugging of abandoned water wells and cisterns. State certified Well drillers, pump installers, and well plugging contractors are all certified to perform this service. In addition the land-owner, under the supervision of the County Environmental Health Specialist can also plug their own abandoned well. To receive your money for plugging your abandoned well first contact the Hancock County Environmental Health Specialist and then have the contractor submit the well plugging form and invoice to Hancock Public Health Services.
The Abandoned Well Plugging Application and other resources can be found in Additional Resources.
The Hancock County Environmental Health Specialist conducts site evaluations, sets design standards and conducts inspections for on-site waste water disposal systems (septic systems) within Hancock County. The purpose of this program is to protect surface and ground water from contamination of human sewage. Human sewage carries many harmful pathogens that may cause people to become ill or even die.
During the site evaluations inspectors determine soil types and locations where the septic system may be located. Then the system is designed to meet the needs of the house or other structure on the property. During the installation of the system the inspector reviews the construction to ensure that the design standards are met.
A permit is required to install or alter a septic system. The permit fee is $250.00. Permits are available at the HCPHS or at the link in Additional Resources.
For more information on Septic systems, click here.
The procedure for handling public health nuisance complaints is as follows:
Upon receiving a complaint a determination will be made as to whether the problem constitutes a “public health nuisance”. The following are not public health nuisances:
- Barking dogs, weeds, odors, piles of wood, structurally sound buildings, etc…
The following are examples of public health nuisances:
- Open or abandoned wells, unsecured falling structures, untreated sewage discharges,
- Extraordinarily large numbers of rodents and vermin, etc…
This determination will be made by the environmental health specialist and/or board of health, and will normally involve a visit to the site as part of the investigation.
If it is determined that there is a “public health nuisance” present the next step will be contacting the responsible party of the hazardous conditions and give reasoning why the conditions present a hazard to public health/safety and request a timely response to abate the hazards.
If no response is received, a more detailed request in writing will be sent out outlining the observations and reasons why the conditions are considered to be a threat to the public’s / community’s health.
If there is still no response the matter will be turned over to the Hancock County Attorney.
If you would like to report a “public health nuisance”, you may click on the link in Additional Resources for a Nuisance Complaint Form.
Hancock County Public Health Services contracts with the Iowa Department of Inspections to inspect the following:
- Hotels and Motels
- Swimming Pools and Spas
- Tanning Facilities
- Tattoo parlors
To find out more on these services click here.
What is radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of radium, which is itself a decay product of uranium. Uranium and radium are both common elements in the soil.
Where is radon found?
The major source of high levels of radon in homes is soil surrounding the house. The radon gas from the soil can enter a home or building through dirt floors, hollow-block walls, cracks in the foundation floor and walls, and openings around floor drains, pipes and sump pumps.
- Radon is often more highly concentrated in basements, ground floors and the first floor of homes.
- Radon problems have been identified in every state, and nationwide tests are being conducted to identify the extent and magnitude of the problem. EPA estimates that as many as one in 15 homes in the U.S. have elevated radon levels.
- Any home may have a radon problem.
- Homes without basements can have a radon problem. Iowa is in Zone 1 of the EPA’s radon Zones. This means that homes in Iowa have the highest potential for increased Radon levels.
What are the health effects of radon?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, resulting in thousands of deaths each year in the United States. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. As radon decays and is inhaled into the lungs, its byproducts release energy that can damage sensitive lung tissue and lead to lung cancer.
For non-smokers, exposure to elevated radon levels can increase the risk of lung cancer as much as smoking can. For smokers, exposure to radon is an especially serious health risk.
How is radon measured?
Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). No level of radon is considered absolutely safe. However, the average indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L. The American Lung Association (ALA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that action be taken when indoor levels are above 4 picocuries per liter.
What should the home owner do?
Test your home for radon. Do-it-yourself test kits are available at Hancock County Public Health for $6.00.
Fix your home if radon levels are over 4 pCi/L. Professional contractors must be certified by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Knowledgeable home owners may take corrective action to reduce radon levels in their own homes (EPA pamphlets are available). Radon problems can be fixed by straight forward construction techniques.
For more information click on the links below:
Iowa Department of Public Health Radon Program
Environmental Protection Agency Radon
Building a new house using Radon resistant technology
The Citizen's Guide to Radon link can be found in Additional Resources.
Septic System Information
Public Health Related Nuisances