Several years ago, a water crisis enveloped Flint, Michigan when, through a series of ill-advised bureaucratic and political decision making, lead and other contaminates poisoned the water. The Flint experience led policymakers in Pennsylvania to closely examine our water systems for lead infiltration.
What we uncovered is very troubling. A February 2016 report found that Pennsylvania had at least 18 cities with higher rates of lead exposure than Flint. The report noted that 10 percent of 140,000 children had high levels of lead in their blood. A news article, alluding to the rate of lead exposure found in data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that Pennsylvania’s rate was “incredibly alarming.”
Exposure to lead is dangerous especially for children. The predominant source for lead poisoning in Philadelphia is lead paint and lead dust from paint. Lead paint was used in housing prior to 1978 and houses built before 1950 pose even greater risks. When lead paint chips or peels and is reduced to flakes, the dust can be swallowed by children.
To address lead paint contamination so children are not impacted, I’ve taken action on a variety of levels. Along with my colleagues in the Senate, I am sponsoring legislation to effectively deal with lead exposure. The legislative package includes the following provisions:
- Creation of a Superfund for Lead Abatement that could be used by schools, day care centers and other local organizations to remediate lead contamination (Senate Bill 405);
- A requirement that every school building be tested for lead before the school year begins. Test results would be sent to parents and if testing results are elevated above acceptable levels, a remediation plan would be submitted to the state (Senate Bill 647);
- Testing of lead would be required in day care centers licensed by the state. If lead levels are too high, licensure of the day care center would be prohibited;
- Homebuyers would be able to request that a home be tested for lead and require lead paint disclosure on the property disclosure statement (Senate Bills 296 and 727).
Another measure has already been unanimously approved by the Senate last June (Senate Resolution 33). This legislation called for the creation of a task force to study the scope of the lead issue and inventory the state’s housing stock, pipelines, school building and day cares. The task force would recommend best practices to remediate the lead.
While moving legislation is important as a long-term solution, I was pleased to seek immediate help via new grant dollars to address the lead crisis in Philadelphia. I was able to secure a total of $125,000 to provide immediate assistance. The first grant for $35,000 is earmarked for a training program that teaches lead safety measures to protect residents during home renovations. The remainder of the funds are targeted for the City of Philadelphia’s Lead and Healthy Homes program which remediates lead from contaminated properties.
In 2016, Mayor Jim Kenney released “Lead-Free Kids: Preventing Lead Poisoning in Philadelphia.” This effort was designed to improve the city’s efforts to prevent lead poisoning in Philadelphia’s children.
In the “Lead-Free Kids” plan, the City committed to:
- Increase door-to-door outreach in high-risk neighborhoods,
- Educate about lead risks during home visits,
- Conduct public education campaigns,
- Increase coordination between the Philadelphia Department of Health and Labor and Industry to encourage landlords to comply with the Lead Paint Disclosure Law, and
- Introduce education and possible enforcement for landlords believed to be subject to the Lead Paint Disclosure Law.
- Work with physicians to improve their lead screening rates, and
- Strengthen efforts to ensure that landlords and owner-occupants remediate properties where children with elevated blood lead levels live.
The Philadelphia Department of Health recommends that all children should be screened for lead at 12 and 24 months or at 36 to 72 months if there hasn’t been prior screening. If elevated lead levels are detected, a follow up test should be scheduled.