Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday unveiled his initiative to create a lead-free Pennsylvania by calling on the legislature to increase access to blood testing for children in alignment with federal guidelines, increasing local response efforts, and planning for training of more certified lead abatement professionals.
The governor was joined at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Karabots Pediatric Center in West Philadelphia by hospital officials and medical staff, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, and legislators.
“Pennsylvania has the sixth-highest percentage rate for children suffering from lead poisoning and this is only the number who have been formally diagnosed,” Wolf said. “This is not good for the future of Pennsylvania, so today I am calling for the legislature to pass universal lead testing this fall.”
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.
“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.
The federal guidelines, supported by a study ordered via a 2017 state bipartisan, bicameral resolution, 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 timeframe, it is recommended that schools encourage testing when children enter the classroom at age 6 or sooner. The preference, though, is for early detection so the source of the lead exposure can be eliminated before any permanent damage occurs.
“Lead poisoning is preventable. Unfortunately, lead goes undetected within our homes and schools and robs children of their true potential,” said Kevin Osterhoudt, M.D. 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.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes was not in attendance, but offered a statement:
“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.”
Testing is the first step to lead poisoning treatment according to State Rep. Donna Bullock.
“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.”