Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Gov. Wolf Calls For Legislative Action On Lead Testing For Children, Lead Abatement

On August 28, Tom Wolf 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,” Gov. 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.
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.”
“I want to thank Gov. Tom Wolf for working with me and others to help protect our children from toxic, lead-infested environments,” Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said. “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, daycares, water and soil. 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 really the first step to lead poisoning treatment,” Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) said. “Children with high lead levels in their blood will need more treatment, medication and maybe even hospitalization. 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.”
“One of the biggest challenges we face as public health professionals is knowing which communities are impacted the most because not everyone is tested,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “That’s why Gov. Wolf’s initiative for a Lead-Free PA and access to blood testing is critical.”
In addition to calling for legislation to mandate blood testing that follows the federal guidelines, Gov. Wolf outlined other initiatives associated with creating a lead-free Pennsylvania, including:
Local Response Teams
Local response teams will develop a plan to care for children with elevated blood lead levels. These teams will be modeled after the Plan of Safe Care teams that were developed in response to infants being born affected by substance use disorder.
These will ensure proper notification from physician to the Department of Health of cases of children with an elevated blood lead level, a coordinated follow up with the child’s family or caretaker, an assessment of the source of lead poisoning, and a response plan that includes available resources and opportunities for elimination of the source of lead exposure.
Workforce Training
The administration will develop training to get more Pennsylvanians certified in lead remediation. As of last week, there were 773 individuals and 124 companies certified by the Department to do lead remediation work. There are also 13 training providers accredited by the Department.
The goal is to identify resources to increase training in this vital area, especially in areas of the state where there is greater need for lead remediation services.
Resources for Families
The departments of Health and Human Service have updated online resources for families to access information on lead testing, lead poisoning and lead remediation. That information is available on the Department of Health’s Lead Poisoning webpage.
“This is just the start of my plan for a lead-free Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “I plan to continue to work with the General Assembly as the fall session gets underway to pass legislation on universal lead testing and to ensure we are responding to the needs of Pennsylvanians around this important health issue.” 
Senate Task Force On Lead
On May 7, Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) and legislative members of the Senate Task Force on Lead Exposure held a press conference to discuss the legislative recommendations that were part of Lead Exposure Risks and Response in Pennsylvania: Report of the Advisory Committee and Task Force on Lead Exposure
In addition to Sen. Yudichak, the legislative members of the task force included Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) and Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming).
The advisory committee and task force made the following recommendations, several of which are being addressed through legislation announced at the press conference:
-- Require universal blood screenings for children;
-- Mandate inspections/certifications of child-care facilities with vulnerable populations;
-- Ensure safe housing is available to families through a residential rental property certification program;
-- Establish a statewide rental housing registry;
-- Establish a lead abatement grant program to assist property owners in conducting lead abatement;
-- Establish an interagency council to coordinate implementation of lead prevention programs and policies among the relevant state agencies;
-- Require all school drinking water systems to be inspected and certified;
-- Clarify plumbing system lead ban;
-- Permit municipal authorities operating public drinking water system to replace lateral lead service lines;
-- Require lead service line replacements and restrict partial lead water service line replacements;
-- Adopt the Uniform Property Maintenance Code; and
-- Provide guidance on private well construction.
Among the most significant findings in the report were--
-- Exposure to lead-based paint is the primary cause of lead poisoning and a much wider-spread area of risk than public drinking water systems;
-- While the harmful effects of ingesting or breathing lead-contaminated air, water, soil, and paint are well-known and recognized, there is no known “safe harbor” level of lead in the bloodstream that can be considered acceptable;
-- Children are at the greatest risk of lead poisoning, which can cause neurological damage, organ damage and death, but adults and the elderly can also suffer health concerns from lead exposure;
-- Many schools do not have their own private drinking water sources and receive their drinking water from public community water systems. Once the water leaves the public system, it can be exposed to lead via older service lines to the building, and interior plumbing and fixtures that may have been in place since the building was constructed. Older school buildings, particularly those constructed before 1960, have a substantial risk of containing internal lead drinking water distribution systems and lead paint;
-- Regulations governing child care facilities address lead-paint activities as they occur in such facilities, but do not require lead inspections or certification in order to obtain or maintain licensure;
-- Drinking water supply systems are responsible for water lines from the source to the property line of a home or business. The service lines from the “curb to the meter” and the plumbing and fixtures are owned by and the responsibility of the property owner.  It is estimated that at least 160,000 of these service lines made of lead exist in Pennsylvania, connecting to homes, schools and daycare facilities; and 
-- Private wells are not subject to state regulation, and few municipalities have guidelines for safe construction and connection of water lines to the home or business.
For information on lead in drinking water, visit DEP’s Lead In Drinking Water webpage.
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