Pennsylvania has a lead poisoning problem.
A report issued by an environmental and consumer advocacy group gave Pennsylvania an “F’’ for its efforts to remove lead from drinking water in schools.
PennEnvironment and PennPIRG released the grade in May, saying Pennsylvania hasn’t been aggressive enough in replacing lead pipes, plumbing or fixtures in schools.
“Pennsylvania has the sixth-highest percentage rate for children suffering from lead poisoning and this is only the number who have been formally diagnosed,” says Gov. Tom Wolf.
The Tribune reports that currently, only about 30 percent of children in Pennsylvania have been tested for lead, and about 4.6 percent of those children had elevated blood lead levels.
Lead can cause lifelong brain damage and other harm, especially for children, although Pennsylvania health officials say exposure to lead-based paint chips and dust, not tainted water, is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning.
In response to the lead poisoning problem, Wolf announced in August efforts to lower the risk of lead poisoning through mandated blood testing for children and other measures.
The administration is also working on ways for regional response teams to care for children with dangerous amounts of lead in their system and proposals to train more people in remediating lead and to provide more resources online about lead poisoning, testing and remediation.
These are all important steps to address this problem, as well as the governor’s backing of legislation to require testing that meets federal guidelines.
The state’s lawmakers should act swiftly on the governor’s initiative on lead testing.
Testing is critical to prevent lead poisoning.
“One of the biggest challenges we face as public health professionals is knowing which communities are impacted the most because not everyone is tested,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
“Lead poisoning is preventable. Unfortunately, lead goes undetected within our homes and schools and robs children of their true potential,” said Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Pennsylvania children are all too frequent victims of lead’s silent poisoning. We must acknowledge that our older housing stock and water delivery systems place our children at risk of lead exposure and protect them through education, advocacy, policy, investment and action.”
The federal guidelines advise parents and guardians to have their children given a finger prick test for lead exposure between age 9 and 12 months and then again at age 24 months.
If children are not given this test in that time frame, it is recommended that schools encourage testing when children enter the classroom at age 6 or sooner. However, the preference is for early detection so the source of the lead exposure can be eliminated before any permanent damage occurs.
Sen. Vincent Hughes says, “After the events that transpired in Flint, Michigan, I convened members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, leading to the introduction of a package of bills addressing lead in our homes, schools, day cares, water and soil,” he said.
“I am grateful for the amazing work and strong partnership we have with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and their staff, especially for their efforts to detect and treat children who have been exposed to lead. Together, we must devote more resources to eradicating this public health crisis in the places our children live and learn. There are ZIP codes in my district that have some of the highest levels of contamination in Philadelphia, which is why I will continue to fight to protect citizens in this city and across this commonwealth.”
State Rep. Donna Bullock knows from personal experience that testing is the first step to lead poisoning treatment.
“Children with high lead levels in their blood will need more treatment, medication and maybe even hospitalization,” she said. “My family was able to treat my son more easily, because my pediatrician tested him early and it was a small amount of lead. With early testing, we can work with families to reduce the risk of further exposure and more effectively treat children. This is why I support the governor and my colleagues’ efforts to encourage lead testing at an earlier age.”
Lawmakers know what they must do to prevent lead poisoning. They need to act.