Wolf calls for mandatory blood lead testing for Pennsylvania children |

Wolf calls for mandatory blood lead testing for Pennsylvania children

Theresa Clift
Gov. Tom Wolf (AP Photo)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wants to require all children in Pennsylvania to undergo blood lead testing after a new state report shows only 28 percent of toddlers statewide and 31 percent in Allegheny County were tested in 2015.

“We need to be able to identify all children who have elevated blood-lead levels in order make sure their families have access to the services they need,” Wolf said in a news release.

Allegheny County Council last month passed legislation that will require all children in the county to undergo blood lead testing at ages 1 and 2. The legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, could be the first in the state. Philadelphia has no such ordinance.

The state’s Department of Health report found counties had testing rates ranging from 12 percent to 47 percent for children younger than 2.

Cumberland County, near Harrisburg, had the lowest percentage of children under age 2 who were tested, at 12 percent.

Potter County had the highest percentage tested, at 47 percent. Cameron County was a close second with 46 percent. Both are rural counties. Philadelphia had 43 percent.

When children up to age 6 are included, only 17.5 percent in Allegheny County were tested in 2015, compared to Philadelphia’s 29 percent.

Allegheny County has about 1.2 million people. Philadelphia has about 1.5 million.

The 2015 state report was delayed in its release; a spokesperson said there is no timetable on when the 2016 report will be completed.

The state recorded that slightly fewer children under age 6 were tested in 2015 than Allegheny County Health Department recorded. According to the state, 13,662 were tested and according to the health department, 13,761 were tested ­— a difference of about 99 children.

The county data also show slightly fewer cases of child lead poisoning than the state’s.

According to the state, 406 children under age 6 showed levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead or higher, while the health department data shows 350 children at that level.

The difference could be because the health department does not individually re-code lab records like the state does, said LuAnn Brink, the health department’s chief epidemiologist.

“We’re happy that the state shared many of their resources with us, and appreciate their releasing this report, which confirms our findings and conclusions (recognizing the slight differences in numbers) and reinforces our plans for mandatory testing and increased evaluation of childhood lead levels in Allegheny County,” Brink said in an email. “We will continue to closely examine Allegheny County blood results and look for opportunities for improvement.”

Lead, a neurotoxin that slows brain development, can be ingested through drinking water or flaking paint.

Children in Allegheny County are especially at risk.

The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority has been exceeding a federal lead threshold for more than a year and 60 percent of homes are built before 1950, when lead was most prevalent in paint and plumbing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children are tested for lead at ages 1 and 2, but some pediatricians do a questionnaire instead and don’t test if the child’s house is built after a certain year or they meet other factors, Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, has said.

The Centers for Disease Control sets 5 mcg/dL as an “elevated” lead level for children, but says there is no safe level.

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

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