Wolf admin calls for universal lead testing of children

Lead-based paint is one of the leading causes of lead exposure among children. (AP Photo)

Lead-based paint is one of the leading causes of lead exposure among children. (AP Photo)

A Department of Health report out this week has shown that only 28 percent of Pennsylvania children undergo recommended lead testing.

Officials in the Wolf Administration say that isn’t nearly high enough, so they’re launching a bid to require universal, statewide testing for kids under the age of two.

Lead exposure in early childhood can lead to serious developmental problems, including lowered IQ and behavioral issues.

The study showed that the fraction of children who do get evaluated for lead exposure are typically tested through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

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A few get routine tests from their pediatrician — but Acting Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the practice is still relatively rare, which makes it difficult to say how many children are getting exposed to lead, where it’s happening, and how it’s affecting them.

“Any lead in children is not good,” she said. “But we don’t know the whole scope.”

Levine said part of the reason the issue warrants attention, is that health standards regarding lead have shifted over the last few decades. What was considered acceptable exposure 10 years ago isn’t always acceptable today.

“To be honest with you,” she said, “over the course of my career, which spans 30 years, the quote-unquote ‘acceptable’ level of lead has always gone down.”

Today, the “acceptable” level is virtually zero.

Officials typically point to lead-based paint — which was banned in the late ‘70s — as a key culprit in lead exposure cases.

That’s a particular problem in Pennsylvania, which ranks third in the country for housing built before 1950.

Levin said if a child is exposed to lead, the DOH has some limited resources to help remove contaminants from their family’s home. But she notes, funds are limited.

“The funding for that from the federal government over the last number of decades has been significantly cut,” She said. “That’s a challenge, for public health in Pennsylvania, but also throughout the nation.”

The Wolf administration is drafting legislation to mandate universal testing. It would require legislative approval.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to cover testing.

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