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Legislation to increase lead testing introduced

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New bipartisan legislation has been introduced that would ensure children enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program are tested at an early age for lead poisoning in an effort to combat the negative effects that can occur.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, discussed the Preventing Lead Poisoning Act during a teleconference Wednesday.

The legislation is supported by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“Decades after we learned of the dangers of lead exposure, too many Ohio children are still being poisoned by the homes they live in and the water they drink,” he said.

More than 3,800 children in the state tested positive for lead levels in 2018, Brown said.

He said those are just the numbers of the children who were tested and do not include the “many” other children were not tested for lead poisoning.

“Far too few children were tested, we haven’t tested nearly enough,” he added.

Brown said early detection is imperative in ensuring children receive the proper care and treatments. Lead poisoning can lead to decreased cognitive performance, weight loss and delayed growth, he said.

He added children under the age of 6 are at the highest risk of contracting lead poisoning.

Additional testing is needed in order to detect lead poisoning as early as possible.

“Early detection is key to getting these kids the treatment they need to avoid the worst long-term health outcomes,” he said.

The new legislation would make certain that children enrolled in either of the government health programs would have access to testing.

“Not only does testing ensure children get the follow up care they need, but it also helps to identify and remove lead hazards where we find them. Of course the best way to protect our kids is to prevent lead poisoning before it happens,” he said.

Brown said more than two-thirds of Ohio homes are old enough to contain at least some lead-based paint.

He said there are also dangers in lead pipes. Thousands of cities’ private water lines contain lead — it would cost around $60 million to replace those lines.

A transformative infrastructure investment is needed to alleviate some of those dangers and perform lead-mitigation in Ohioans’ homes, he said.

“It will create jobs, it will protect kids’ health,” he said. “No parent should worry if her children or his children are being poisoned at home or by their drinking water.”

Dr. Edward Barksdale Jr., surgeon-in-chief at the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, spoke in favor of the legislation and of the importance of early testing.

“I witness first hand the devastating impact of lead poisoning on not just the immediate health of children, but also the long-term wellbeing of these children and the community,” he said. “As the chief here (at the hospital), I see these children who may present acutely, but also as someone who worked in the realm of trauma, I see children who have had behavioral issues as a result.”

Around 40 percent of the state’s lead poisoning cases occur in Cuyahoga County, Barksdale said. The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible and can impair children’s cognitive learning ability leading to detention disorders and behavioral issues, he said.

“While primary prevention of lead poisoning and lead exposure is our ultimate goal, testing is also critically important,” he said.

Brown said he believes that Congress must pass the legislation so that every child at risk can receive a timely screening and appropriate care. The legislation would strengthen and enforce the requirements for screening while also improving the data coordination across programs in the state. The screening would ensure children between the ages of 1-2 who are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP be tested for lead levels. Barksdale said exposure to lead has the greatest impact during those ages when the brain is developing.

Brown said the proposed legislation has good support and will have minimal cost, a cost that could be absorbed in the infrastructure bill.

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