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As worries over lead intensify, Allegheny County launches a task force to examine the problem |

As worries over lead intensify, Allegheny County launches a task force to examine the problem

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dr. Karen Hacker speaks to reporters after being named the new Allegheny County Health Department director at County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's office in the County Courthouse on May 31, 2013.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker will chair a lead task force to review county data and examine potential policy changes, the county announced Tuesday.

The nine-member task force will deliver a report to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald within six months, according to a news release.

Hacker announced the task force was in the works during a news conference late last month. The county announced that event after County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she was holding one the same day in response to media reports, including a Trib story that revealed the county rarely penalizes landlords for letting lead paint linger.

At the news conference, Hacker defended the county’s actions on that topic but said the task force could look in to it.

The city also created a task force looking at restructuring the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — the second largest system in the country exceeding a federal lead limit. The county task force is not focused on any one source, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman.

The county has never found water to be the primary source of child lead poisoning, as it’s usually paint-related, Hacker has said.

“Dr. Hacker’s level of professionalism and expertise make her a great choice to pull together all of the stakeholders as we delve into this issue further,” Fitzgerald said in the release.

Wagner, who said she expected to be placed on the task force, was not included.The task force members include:

• Patrick Dowd, inaugural executive director of Allies for Children, a Pittsburgh-based child advocacy nonprofit and former Pittsburgh councilman;

• Richard Ford, Clairton councilman;

• Dr. Bernard Goldstein, physician, board-certified in internal medicine and toxicology and professor of environmental and occupational health at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health;

• Valerie McDonald Roberts, chief urban affairs officer for the City of Pittsburgh;

• Deborah Moss, pediatrician with experience working to improve care for underserved populations;

• Dr. Amy G. Nevin, who works in conjunction with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in finding ways to improve communication between doctors and social service agencies. She previously served as first pediatrician at Hilltop Community Healthcare Center in Beltzhoover;

• Jeanne VanBriesen, Duquesne Light Co. professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems at Carnegie Mellon University;

• Sharon Watkins, chief epidemiologist at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.According to the release, the task force is charged with:

• Reviewing the current literature and speaking with experts on sources of lead and the relative risks to the Allegheny County population;

• Reviewing available data to determine what we know and don’t know relevant to childhood lead exposure in our county;

• Reviewing strategies for assessing the impact of proposed universal lead screening;

• Examining possible policies that protect the public from lead exposure;

• Making recommendations for interventions and prevention of lead exposure.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.

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