A webinar on the consequences of lead poisoning in children and snapshots of how state and local advocates are developing policy approaches to reduce lead poisoning and serve children who have been affected by it.
On May 3, 2016, the Coalition on Human Needs, First Focus, Children’s Leadership Council, Partnership for America’s Children, MomsRising, and the National Head Start Association hosted the webinar, Lead Poisoning: Preventable Harm, focusing on the nation’s attention on the terrible human cost of allowing contamination of our water supply, catalyzed by the lead poisoning of children (and adults) in Flint, Michigan. We have since learned that lead in water affects many communities nationwide, and that lead from paint in older buildings is an even more prevalent source of child poisoning. We have known about this for a long time, and steps to reduce the lead around us in previous decades have dramatically reduced the number of children suffering from lead poisoning. But reduced investments by local, state, and federal governments have slowed our progress and brought preventable harm to more than half a million U.S. children.
This webinar provided expert evidence about the consequences of lead poisoning in children, examples of work being done in Flint and Philadelphia to stop this scourge, and timely information about Congressional proposals to fund the solutions. Click here to watch the webinar and access the slideshow and materials.
- Dr. Jennifer A. Lowry, MD, a pediatrician and national expert on medical toxicology, including lead poisoning, practicing at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO. She directs the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PESHU) for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7 and serves as chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health.
- Colleen McCauley, Health Policy Director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth in Pennsylvania. She works on child health policies, with special emphasis on low-income and undocumented children in the metro Philadelphia area. Prior to joining PCCY in 2001, Colleen was a nurse and former Assistant Director of the Abbottsford Community Health Center in Philadelphia.
Snapshots: State and local policy approaches to addressing lead poisoning
These snapshots of some organizations’ work offer a menu of activities for policymakers and advocates considering how to address lead poisoning in their communities. The approaches include data reporting, parent education, screening, treatment, housing inspection, abatement, enforcement, and services including health care, early intervention and education services for children exposed to lead.
Michigan’s Children is fighting to increase state funding for a range of early intervention programs, and continued support for children exposed to lead and their families. This includes work with key legislative allies and other advocacy and program partners to move several comprehensive funding packages specific to Flint’s exposed population that include expanded resources for Early On (Michigan’s IDEA Part C program), home visiting, child care and nutrition supports, as well as other health and infrastructure investments. It also includes making connections to other partners and champions to continue necessary wrap around interventions as exposed children move into school-age and beyond.
They have also begun to utilize the increased attention to lead exposure interventions and supports to expose the shortcomings in the state system for early intervention, which is true not only in Flint, but around the state. They have a focused effort on expanding investment in early intervention programs like Early On statewide.
Priority Children in Flint, MI, is sharing information about nutrition and water resources and advocating for educational and medical services. It is also working on mapping (geo-coding) with researchers to identify children, their location, etc. in the city to better pinpoint resources.
Advocates for the Children of New Jersey worked with other advocates to protect a statutorily dedicated fund for lead abatement. Governor Christie recently made a public commitment for to a special $10 million appropriation to the Lead Hazard Abatement Fund. ACNJ also supported legislation to lower the blood lead test level that requires public health departments to inform parents and proactively search for the source of the lead and require abatement to the current CDC recommendation of 5 micrograms/deciliter rather than the older recommendation of 10. The governor recently announced that the Department of Health will follow the CDC guidelines, that there will be a new public awareness campaign, and an enhanced campaign to remediate lead poisoning in housing. In addition, the state will require all older schools to their water and will issue regulations for posting testing results and notifying parents.
Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) has worked since its inception to reduce childhood lead poisoning in Philadelphia, its surrounding counties, and state-wide. Because of the work of PCCY and its partners, the City:
- allocated increased resources to wipe out a backlog of houses that had poisoned children and were ordered to be remediated,
- expanded prenatal home visiting programs designed to help prevent children being exposed to lead by screening the home and educating the parent,
- established a Lead Court to enforce requirements that property owners remediate lead,
- had City staff help landlords with the process of applying for federal funds to remediate lead,
- created a program to temporarily house families in lead-safe homes during the remediation process, and
- passed a law requiring landlords to test their properties for lead hazards.
PCCY and its partners also persuaded the state to require testing of all young children in the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and to provide financial incentives for Medicaid and CHIP managed care providers to test all young children.
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT identified an easily understandable data point (children entering kindergarten with a history of blood lead levels) in 1995 and have reported on it regularly as an indicator in the annual Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook to draw attention to the problem. Since 1995, the percentage of Rhode Island children with elevated lead levels has dropped significantly. In 1995 71% of children entering kindergarten had a history of elevated blood lead levels; in 2017 that is expected to be 8%. However, the work is not done until lead poisoning is eliminated. The latest data shows that 894 Rhode Island children that will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2017 have elevated lead levels (greater than or equal to 5 ug/dl) and that low income and minority children are more likely to be lead poisoned, primarily due to housing conditions.
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT’s prominently and regularly reporting the data on lead poisoning helped provide momentum for a major community prevention and treatment effort and helped spur a new lead poisoning law. Elements of the Rhode Island approach include:
- Lead Centers that provide case management and environmental inspections. Case management offers education regarding health, nutrition, and cleaning techniques, ongoing developmental assessment and contact with the child's health care provider, and referrals for further assistance with education, nutrition, housing, and legal needs.
- A federal waiver recommended by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and obtained by Rhode Island allows the Lead Centers to use Medicaid to pay for case services for Medicaid enrolled children with high blood levels. (It also allows Rhode Island to use Medicaid for window replacement in the homes of lead poisoned children enrolled in Rite Care but this provision is rarely used.)
- A pilot project through which visiting nurses educated pregnant women in Providence about lead poisoning and prenatal care. Eligible pregnant women and their landlords were referred for financial assistance in removing lead hazards before the baby is born.
- Tenant complaint and notification protections, and public registries of inspected properties or properties with multiple lead poisonings and uncorrected lead hazards.
- Failure to initiate improvements within required time periods and after notice is a felony where the failure to abate results in an additional lead poisoning.
- Insurance companies, with certain exceptions, must cover lead paint liability.
- There is a private right of action for pregnant women and families with children under age 6 to compel compliance with lead hazard mitigation requirements and to obtain attorneys' fees and court costs.
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF), recognizing that many children in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to lead, reached out to juvenile justice professionals to educate them about the impact of lead poisoning on the children they work with and encouraging them to take steps to protect siblings who might also be exposed to lead. In addition WCCF has posted periodic blogs to highlight the harmful effects of lead exposure and has been a participating member of the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Elimination Oversight Committee working to reduce children’s exposure to lead and increase early testing for children at risk of exposure.