Advocates have launched a new push focused on getting Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass legislation that protects children from lead-paint poisoning.
The percentage of Pennsylvania kids with high lead levels is among the nation’s worst, twice the national average. Part of that is connected to the state’s old housing stock, with 70% of homes being built before 1978, when consumer-use of lead-based paint was banned.
Colleen McCauley, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Lead-Free Promise Project, said the campaign’s main priority is getting funds that will help remove deteriorated lead paint from homes.
“The tragedy of lead-paint poisoning is that it robs kids of their intellect,” said McCauley. “It can cause irreversible brain damage for kids. We have a solution. It’s preventable. We’re doing this because we are talking about babies.”
In the short term, McCauley said the campaign is requesting $40 million in American Rescue Plan funds. Last month, state lawmakers secured $10 million to go toward lead remediation.
She said the campaign is meeting with 40 key lawmakers to talk to them about lead poisoning and seek their support on moving legislation forward. Lead remediation has strong bipartisan support with no evident or organized opposition.
An estimated 7,000 children test positive for lead every year – although that is likely a significant undercount, as the state only tests 20% of that population.
That’s why state Sen. Lisa Baker – R-Luzerne – has introduced a bill that would ensure all pregnant women and children in the state receive blood tests for lead poisoning.
“Part of our bill,” said Baker, “would require the Department of Health to conduct a public health information campaign to inform young parents and physicians about the testing requirements.”
The public health campaign would also target homeowners and landlords. The bill passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously last year.
Baker said she anticipates the Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the bill as it returns to session this month.
by Emily Scott