Lead Paint Poisoning in Baltimore City Continues to Pose Serious Risk for Maryland Children: Report

While the state of Maryland has made great strides in reducing the number of children with lead paint poisoning, a recent investigation shows that loopholes and a lack of funding are allowing hundreds of children to continue to suffer severe and life-long injuries in dilapidated rental units. 

A report published the Baltimore Sun this week reveals that more than 260 children in Maryland were diagnosed with lead blood poisoning last year, half of them in Baltimore City.

The poisonings, which involve at least 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood, were mostly due to exposure to dust from lead paint in poorly maintained rental homes. However, if one uses the threshold of concern by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5 mg/dl, that number jumps to more than 700 Baltimore City lead poisoning cases in 2014 alone.

The report indicates that the lead exposure continues decades after the dangers associated with toxic lead paint found in many older homes, due to a lack of follow-up by state and city health officials and inspectors, loopholes that allow landlords to avoid inspections, and in some cases simply ignore fines and penalties. Many of the rental units end up not being even registered, in violation of Baltimore City ordinances.

While the number of new lead poisoning cases in Baltimore has dropped 86% since 2002, according to the report, there were still at least 4,900 children in Maryland who were diagnosed with lead poisoning over the last 10 years. And that number comes with only about 20% of children being tested.

While Maryland laws on the books have been strengthened over the years, actual enforcement, record-keeping and verification has not.

The report suggests that the state rarely actually checks to see if landlords have their properties inspected for lead paint, many violations are not followed up on, and a large number of rentals are not registered as they should.

To make matters more complicated, the inspections, citations and registrations are all on different databases that are not linked together, making information sharing difficult and making it harder for state and city workers to notice inconsistencies and problems.

State officials told the Baltimore Sun that better technology and increased funding are needed to make more progress on the problem.

The story comes out a little more than a month after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced a new state policy that seeks to have all children between the ages of 1 and 2 tested for lead blood levels in Maryland, while previous state testing requirements focused only on children living in “at risk” zip codes, which were usually urban areas known to contain older housing that is likely to have lead paint remnants. Those enrolled in Medicaid are also automatically tested currently.

The new directive came after state agencies determined that testing was needed across the entire state. A recent study conducted by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of the Environment found children in all of the state’s jurisdictions with blood lead levels that exceeded the CDC’s limits of 5 mg/dl.

The threshold for a lead poisoning diagnosis is reassessed every four years, according to the CDC. However, the blood poisoning level only applies to children ages six and under. Older children and adults do not have a lead poisoning threshold.

The CDC estimates that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.

The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.

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