Despite years of evidence highlighting the devastating effects of lead poisoning on children, a new reports suggests that millions of children are still not getting blood level testing that could help reveal the dangers of lead exposure at an early age.
A report published last week by Reuters News warns only 41% of children between the ages of 1 and 2, who are enrolled in Medicaid, are getting the required blood lead level testing designed to identify children at risk of experiencing permanent and long-lasting brain damage from toxic lead poisoning.
While some states require all children to be receive lead testing, the report also fund that less than half are actually tested.
According to the Reuters’ investigation, blood lead tests are required in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Some states require testing for all children who live in areas with exposure risks; for example, if they live in areas known to have housing with lead paint or lead-contaminated soil. Medicare requires one third of all U.S. children enrolled in the program be tested.
The review looked at data in nearly a dozen states and found testing compliance varies radically from state to state. Some states that have known lead exposure problems require no testing at all.
Lead poisoning for children is already known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death.
One of the more common causes of of lead poisoning is lead-based paint, which was banned in the United States in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 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.
While the CDC has set a goal of eradicating child lead poisoning by 2020, many experts say that will be unlikely given the deficiencies in testing.