Philadelphia – May 19, 2016 – At the request of state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a roundtable discussion today on the health impact of lead exposure.
“The effects of lead exposure are indelible, dangerous and deadly,” Hughes said. “There is no cure. Whether it’s lead from old pipes or peeling paint that still clings to aging homes and school buildings, this problem will only get worse if we do nothing to help now.”
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee, added, “From my standpoint, we need to get a better understanding of lead exposure levels in Pennsylvania – and we then need to do what’s necessary to limit and prevent exposure.”
The lawmakers pointed to the water lead poisoning tragedy in Flint, Michigan, as a wake-up call for states and cities across the country. While state Department of Health officials claim Pennsylvania’s lead exposure threat is more due to pealing and cracking lead-based paint, a February report by the Department on childhood lead surveillance revealed that Pennsylvania has at least 18 cities with higher lead exposure rates than Flint.
Pointing to data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a February 3 Vox.com article (www.vox.com/2016/2/3/10904120/lead-exposure-flint-pennsylvania) warned that the rate of lead exposure in Pennsylvania is “incredibly alarming.” The study revealed that nearly 10 percent of the more than 140,000 kids tested had levels of five or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in the blood. Five micrograms per deciliter is the threshold government uses to identify children with dangerously elevated blood lead levels.
Held at the Karabots Pediatric Care Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, today’s roundtable discussion also focused on a package of bills introduced by Hughes and fellow Democrats. The measures include:
- Senate Bill 14 (Hughes) would create a “SuperFund for Lead Abatement” that could be used by schools, day care centers, and other organizations to defray lead remediation costs.
- Senate Bill 16 (Yudichak) would create a task force to study the scope of the lead issue, including an accounting of the age of the state’s housing stock, pipelines, school buildings and day care centers. It would also study best practices and make recommendations.
- Senate Bill 17 (Haywood) would require every school building to be tested (water, paint, soil) for lead before a school year begins. Test results would be sent to parents of every enrolled child and posted on school district websites. If a school tests at lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control’s acceptable amount, it would be required to submit a remediation plan to the state Department of Education.
- Senate Bill 18 (Kitchen) seeks to require lead testing (water, paint, soil) in day care centers licensed by the PA Department of Human Services. DHS would be prohibited from issuing a license to a day care operator if lead levels are higher than CDC recommended readings.
- Senate Bills 19 and 20 (Fontana) would enable homebuyers to request that a home be tested to determine what level of lead is in the water; and require that known lead paint within a home build before 1978 as well as any contamination in drinking water be disclosed on a seller’s property disclosure statement.
Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, medical director of the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia (CHOP), called lead exposure “brain poison” in describing the devastating consequences of elevated lead levels in the human body.
Dr. Marsha Gerdes, a senior psychologist in the Policy Lab, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that additional funding will be necessary to clean up both water sources and homes. She also said that prevention needs to be the primary form of intervention.
“An important opportunity to clean up lead poisoning occurs at prenatal visits and at the time of birth,” Gerdes stated. “Asking mothers about where they are living and linking them with services that can reduce lead in their home is a way to reduce exposure from the beginning of life.”
Dr. Carolyn Johnson, who serves as Philadelphia’s interim deputy health commissioner, urged legislators and health agencies to place greater emphasis on preventing lead exposure.
“We need to do more to provide secondary prevention for the thousands of at-risk kids who don’t have elevated lead levels yet,” she said.
Boscola said, “This is a very critical and timely issue – and I commend Senator Hughes for insisting that we have this discussion right now — and right here in Philadelphia.”
Hughes and Boscola were joined at the hearing by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Phila/Delaware) and Sharif Street, the unopposed candidate to fill retiring Sen. Shirley Kitchen’s (D-Phila.) senate seat, also attended the hearing.
The following also participated in the roundtable discussion:
- Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, Medical Director, Poison Control Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Marsha Gerdes, Senior Psychologist, Policy Lab, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Dr. Caroline Johnson, Interim Deputy Health Commissioner, Philadelphia Department of Public Health
- Collen McCauley, Health Policy Director, Public Citizens Children & Youth
- Jerry Roseman, Director of Environmental Science & Occupational Safety & Health, PA Federation of Teachers – Health & Welfare Fund& Union
- Roy Christ, Director of Building and Housing, City of Harrisburg
- Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney, Education Law Center
- Daniel DeLellis, Office of Medical Asst. Programs, PA Department of Human Services
- Michelle Figlar, Deputy Secretary, Office of Child Development & Early Learning, PA Department of Human Services
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