Lead Poisoning Among Ohio Children

WASHINGTON, May 4 - As a state law goes into effect requiring lead testing for all children in high-risk areas, a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that 19,000 Ohio children are lead poisoned. Maps are available at https://www.ewg.org pinpointing neighborhoods where children in Ohio are most likely to be lead-poisoned, along with county-by-county estimates of lead-poisoned children and the number of kids poisoned but not yet tested for lead by health care providers.

EWG found that in 2002, just one in seven Ohio children was tested for lead poisoning, and no county tested more than one third of all children ages 1-5.

Federal law requires that all children enrolled in Medicaid be tested for lead poisoning, but despite the state's prepayment to managed care companies identified in the report, less than one-third of those tests were performed. A new Ohio lead testing law that went into effect April 1 requires targeted testing of one- and two-year olds in state identified high-risk zip codes. At the same time, the Bush administration budget for next year proposes a 20 percent cut in lead poisoning prevention programs, which could hamper Ohio's efforts to implement the new law.

"So many of us consider lead poisoning a problem of the past," said Arianne Callender, general counsel of EWG and author of the report. "But with 19,000 children in both urban and rural Ohio poisoned by lead, we know that is not the case. We urge strict enforcement of Ohio's new lead testing law so that more lead-poisoned children in the state are identified, more lead is removed from old buildings, and future cases of lead poisoning are avoided."

Research co-authored by scientists from the University of Cincinnati and published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that levels of lead exposure previously classified as safe are quite hazardous. These experts reported an average IQ decline of 7.4 points for children with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (10 µg/dL), the level currently considered safe by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, compared to children with blood lead levels below 1 ug/dL. Experts say no level of lead exposure is truly safe.

The estimate in EWG's investigation of 19,000 lead poisoned children in Ohio considers only children with blood lead over 10 µg/dL. If the effects of lead poisoning at lower levels were included, thousands of additional children across Ohio could be affected.

Lead has long been known to cause permanent, irreversible damage to children, from lowered IQ to other brain damage. Lead was removed from gasoline and paint in the 1970s, but children are still exposed today through household paint and dust — especially those who live in older homes.

"Parents have a right to know if their children have lead poisoning," said Marcheta Gillam, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. Testing children for lead poisoning is not only the law, it is good public health policy."

"Where lead poisoning prevalence rates are high, as found in many parts of the state in the EWG study, lead poisoning is not just a tragedy for the child and their family, but is a problem for their entire community," said Stuart Greenberg, Executive Director of the Cleveland-based Environmental Health Watch. "Lead poisoning affects overall school performance, workforce readiness, and crime and delinquency rates. It is outrageous that the state government continues to allow HMOs to fail to follow the law and test kids."

A lead test costs less than $60. But the report found that the costs of failing to test children are high — over $230 million a year in Ohio alone in medical care, special education costs and lost income.

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