Health department kicks off Safe Families Month, by George Sedlacek

As you kick off your summer activities this month, adding a home safety inventory of quick, easy and inexpensive tests could help you prevent silent killers like radon and lead from harming you and your family members. Bike safety and car seat checks also are lifesavers.
“Conducting some simple tests at home and taking simple steps to address any problems you may find can prevent cancer and other serious health problems,” said Fred Benzie, environmental health division director.
Benzie recommends a home inventory that includes:
• Annual water testing, especially if you use a private well for drinking water. City water systems are monitored continually for water safety, but it is up to homeowners to monitor their private wells for pollutants like bacteria and nitrates. A bacterial analysis can detect bacteria, including E. coli, an indicator of potential contamination with other serious pathogens such as hepatitis and salmonella. Depending on where you live, testing for pesticides or other factors also may be recommended.
• One-time radon testing of the air near your home’s foundation. There are no obvious signs of radon, a colorless and odorless gas. It moves through small spaces in soils and rock and can enter buildings through openings in foundation floors or walls. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association. Marquette County has areas in which the radon levels exceed the EPA recommendations. If your home has a high level, there are some tips that can assist in lowering radon levels. The health department has educational information that can assist homeowners.
• Lead testing paint from your home, if it was built before 1978, when many house paints included lead. Lead poisoning usually is caused by months or years of exposure to small amounts of lead in the home, work or day care environment. Lead poisoning does not always produce symptoms, but it can be detected easily by a simple finger-stick blood test. Children, older adults and individuals with a chronic illness are particularly susceptible to environmental hazards, Benzie said. “But they are easy to identify and relatively easy to address. And health department staff can provide consultation for people who find an environmental health problem in their home—we’re always working to protect the public against threats to their health.”
Bike safety also is important. Parents should go over the rules of the road with their children, no matter how old they are, according to Diane Curry, Upper Peninsula Partnerships for Safety board member. One of the more important rules is the necessity of bike helmets. Each year in the United States, about 250 children die in bicycle-related accidents, and about half a million kids are injured in bicycling accidents. Although it’s estimated that seventy-five percent of the serious injuries could have been avoided if a helmet had been worn, only about twenty percent of children in the United States wear a helmet.
Of parents who have been polled, ninety-seven percent agree helmets are important to bicycling safety. But only fifty percent of those parents admit to their children actually owning helmets, and, of those children, only twenty-seven percent wear their helmets on a regular basis.
“It’s gratifying to see so many adults wearing helmets in Marquette County,” Curry said. “Kids mirror what they see adults doing, making it easier to convince them that wearing a helmet is the thing to do.”
In addition to bike helmets, young children should be protected properly inside vehicles. According to Curry, approximately ninety percent of car seats are installed improperly or defective.
“We conduct car seat checks across the Upper Peninsula. It is sad knowing so many parents are sincere in their efforts to keep their children safe by buckling them in a car seat when in reality they don’t realize their errors when installing the seat,” Curry said. “These errors can make a car seat less effective and put a child in harm’s way. Child Passenger Safety Technicians across Michigan are excited and relieved knowing Michigan has passed a new booster seat law. On July 1, children must be restrained in a car seat or booster seat up to age eight or until they reach four-foot-nine, whichever comes first.”
For more information on Michigan’s new booster seat law or area car seat safety checks, call Curry at 315-2612.
—George Sedlacek

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