DHEC partnership with Catawba Nation for lead surveillance; National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

Tiffany Witherington, Catawba’s Environmental Health Specialist, William “Bill” Harris, Chief of the Catawba Indian Nation, H. Reed Corley, DHEC, & Darin Steen, formerly with Catawba Nation

*Please note this photo was taken in early 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

As part of our commemoration of Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, October 24-30, 2021, DHEC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) is highlighting one of our successful initiatives: our lead surveillance, outreach, and data-sharing partnership with the Catawba Indian Nation.  

It is widely recognized that lead exposure disproportionately affects children. Tribal communities often have unique risks and barriers to healthcare that may increase the risks to Native children from lead exposure. Recognizing these risks, in 2017, DHEC’s Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, under the leadership of Linda Johnson, reached out to the Catawba Indian Nation, the only federally-recognized tribe in South Carolina. Tribal and DHEC leadership agreed to explore a partnership to identify and address lead risks for tribal children.  

Initially, DHEC received a letter of support from tribal leadership for our 2017 CDC CLPPP grant application. After receiving our CDC 3-year grant Notice of Award, staff from the Division of Children’s Health and Perinatal Services (CHPS) met with Catawba Nation representatives at their Rockhill, SC reservation headquarters to identify our shared goals and values. From this early meeting, the concept of initiating a childhood lead surveillance and outreach program was identified, and the program became a reality became a reality in early 2019.  

Since late 2017, “point” for the work of the CLPPP with the Catawba Indian Nation has been taken by H. Reed Corley, MPH, Childhood Lead Data and Outreach Coordinator in the CHPS Division. Accomplishments from this partnership, resulting from close collaboration between Mr. Corley and the Environmental Health Staff in the CIN, have included:  

  • development of a formal grant subrecipient partnership between DHEC and the Nation; 
  • development of a data-sharing agreement so that EPA trained Catawba Indian Nation staff could respond to a tribal child’s residence if successfully matched against a reported elevated blood lead level in DHEC’s electronic surveillance database (SCION); 
  • development of a database of Catawba Nation tribal children (up to 6 years of age); 
  • identifications of pre-78 homes on tribal lands or off-reservation pre-1978 homes where tribal children reside so that targeted outreach could be provided; 
  • Holding multiple community outreach events (e.g., back to school bashes, community health fairs), development of a social media page, and other outreach to education on lead risks to children; and, with a goal of long-term sustainability,  
  • EPA certification of Catawba Indian Nation Environmental Health staff to conduct environmental investigations designed to identify lead-based hazards.  

DHEC’s CLPPP successfully applied for and received CDC funding for a new 5-year grant cycle; we are excited that our partnership with Catawba Nation will continue for the foreseeable future.

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