Universal Testing Key to Prevention of Long-Term Developmental Damage
Washington, DC — Today, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families released a new report, “Children at Risk: Gaps in State Lead Screening Policies,” which takes a detailed look at each state’s blood lead testing policies. While lead has been banned from household paint and gasoline for some time, there are numerous remaining sources of exposure, including paint in older housing, water service lines and plumbing, and several continuing commercial uses. Primary prevention strategies that eliminate these sources are still the best way to prevent exposure to lead. Nevertheless, regular blood lead testing is critical for identifying very young children with elevated levels early enough that intervention can prevent or mitigate long-term developmental damage.
After comparing state programs by the percentages of children tested in recent years, the report discusses why some policies have been ineffective, and focuses on key reasons for higher testing rates reported in other states. The report concludes with a critique of targeted testing strategies and calls on states to move to universal screening to better protect their children. The report comes amid the Flint water crisis, and a recent bulletin from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which reiterated calls for states to comply with requirements to test all Medicaid-enrolled children for lead at ages one and two.
Some of the key findings from the report include:
- Blood lead screening policies are largely inadequate and leave many children untested.
- State policies range from requiring universal testing – adopted by 10 states plus DC – to having no requirements or recommendations on their websites (5 states).
- No state is 100% compliant with federal Medicaid requirements or general state policies that require testing children at the critically important ages of 1 and 2.
- Universal testing is more useful and cost effective than targeted testing. Targeted testing strategies are unlikely to successfully identify all of the children at risk for lead exposure.
Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said, “The Flint water contamination crisis made clear that the U.S. has unfinished business with lead. We have to do a better job of identifying children at risk of lead poisoning, and eliminating the sources.”
The report’s author, Jen Dickman, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families program associate, continued, “We found state blood lead testing policies that are all over the map. Some are doing a better job than others of finding children who have high levels of lead in their blood and who could benefit from intervention to mitigate the impacts.”
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) said, “The only safe level of lead in a child’s blood is zero. Maryland is leading the way with universal screening for children ages 1 and 2, and I believe that all children, no matter what state they live in, deserve to have the same protection.”