Bill aims to expand childhood lead exposure reporting

Bill aims to expand childhood lead exposure reporting

(Calif.) More children who have been exposed to lead in California may be identified and receive support services under a bill pending before a key Senate panel.

SB 1097, authored by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would impose greater reporting requirements on the California Department of Public Health regarding the number of children tested for lead exposure, and those found to have high levels of lead in their blood, and how continuous and adequate levels of case management are provided.

The bill also calls for the department reporting to include information about the sources of lead exposure for children identified with lead poisoning–which for most children nationally happens predominantly in their home or school.

“It is imperative that we receive more detailed and transparent reporting from the state so that we can prevent and properly handle future cases of lead poisoning,” Hueso said in a statement. “California must and should identify as many children as the law allows.”

Lead is a neurotoxin that can attack the brain and nervous system causing coma, seizures or even death when high levels get into the human body. Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their rapidly developing bodies and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead, research has long shown.

Often found in old, peeling paint, contaminated soil or water that's passed through lead pipes, exposure to lead can negatively impact children in a variety of ways even if they are exposed to only small amounts.

Studies have found that lead exposure in children can lead to impaired memory and self-control, increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other attention issues, delayed in development of language skills and hearing loss, among other challenges.

Children dealing with such effects are more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability, struggle in school or drop out, engage in risky behaviors and come into contact with the criminal justice system.

According to a 2015 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of U.S. children are estimated to have been adversely affected by lead over the last 20 years.

In California, the state failed to identify, test, or provide care to an estimated 200,000 lead poisoned children ages 1-5 between 1992 and 1998, according to a 2000 report from the Environmental Working Group–which is sponsoring Hueso’s bill. The organization’s current analysis of 2013 data, which covers just one year and a smaller range, found little to no improvement.

And Reuters found last year at least 29 California neighborhoods where children had elevated lead tests as high as in Flint, Michigan–with one Fresno location showing rates nearly three times higher.

“Given this data, it is absolutely necessary that we ensure appropriate case management for children already exposed to dangerous levels of lead,” Hueso said.

His bill, which awaits action from the Senate Appropriations Committee, calls for the state public health department to provide a biennial report that would include:

  • The number of children screened for risk of lead poisoning;
  • A list of the three most predominant risk factors for childhood lead poisoning identified by county and the number of children in the county identified as having those risk factors;
  • The number of children identified as being at risk who received blood testing;
  • The results of blood lead testing by ranges of lead levels;
  • The number of children, by blood lead levels, who were referred to case management and who received a health care referral; environmental assessments; and, educational screens, nutrition education, or other resource; and
  • The number of children, by blood level, identified as having lead poisoning who received health treatment for that lead poisoning.

The bill also requires the data to be aggregated by county, and the report to be posted online.

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