Teamwork leads to vital finding in unique lead case

By Cassandra Harris
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Today, childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. Yet, approximately 500,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1-5 have blood-lead levels above the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

In the State of South Carolina, all blood-lead levels are required by law to be reported to DHEC.  Committed to reducing the risks of lead exposure, DHEC’s Division of Children’s Health, in conjunction with the Bureau of Environmental Health Services, follows up on cases that indicate elevated blood-lead levels, providing home investigation and assessments as necessary. Recently, this team’s collaborative and persistent efforts provided a successful determination of a lead source, and a very positive outcome for a local family.

In response to a referral from the Division of Children’s Health, regarding significantly elevated blood-lead levels of children in a non-English speaking Midlands family household, Barbara Charles, a bilingual nurse, accompanied the Bureau of Environmental Health Services certified lead risk assessor, Richard Turner, to inspect the residence. Barbara was instrumental in gaining the family’s trust, which was key to receiving their full cooperation. During the inspection, Richard found that the family, originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, had recently received chapulines-fried grasshoppers, a common snack food in Oaxaca, from a relative. Noting that all of the family members had consumed these chapulines, Richard drew a connection to a case study in another state in which the snacks were found to have high levels of lead. He instructed the family to stop eating the snacks until lab results could be provided, directing the parents to get tested as well. With the help of Lauri Dees of our Bureau of Labs, the chapulines were subsequently tested, revealing that the snacks contained 330 times the allowable lead level for food.

Thanks to the great detective work and collaborative efforts performed by Richard, Barbara, and Lauri, the source of the lead was quickly identified and its use discontinued. Describing the combined impact of their work, Midlands Operations Manager Billy Wiggins stated, “This family’s life has been improved by the actions of this team.” By shining light on this potential danger, we hope the team’s findings will help other families in the future.


Lead poisoning is entirely preventable and, in most cases, goes unnoticed until its long term effects including brain damage, mental retardation, learning disabilities, developmental delay, and behavioral and attention problems are evident. The key to preventing childhood lead poisoning is to stop children from coming into contact with lead hazards before they are harmed and to treat children who have been poisoned by lead. You can help protect yourself and others from lead poisoning by:

  • Identifying any hazards and controlling or removing them safely,
  • Not disturbing paint or touching chipping paint in a house built before 1978,
  • Washing your hands immediately after touching or handling dirt, and never eating dirt.

To learn more about lead, check out our website or call our toll-free number (1-866-466-5323). You can also visit the CDC’s website, at

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