Blood Lead Level Testing Children Should Be More Thorough, Senators Urge CMS
Some lawmakers are calling on federal health officials to ramp up lead testing for children nationwide, following a report that indicates that many of the nation’s youth who should be tested for lead poisoning are not.
Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Ron Wyden of Ohio sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on July 15, calling for a re-evaluation of its lead-screening of Medicaid-eligible children.
The senators indicate that CMS needs to provide states with information on best practices to “reduce barriers” to blood lead screening and testing for children nationwide.
The letter came after a report published by Reuters in June, which warned that only 41% of children between the ages of 1 and 2 who should be getting tested for blood lead levels were actually receiving such testing.
“In order to ensure all at-risk children are appropriately screened, CMS should work to identify potential barriers to screening and testing and provide resources for states to overcome these challenges,” the senators wrote. “CMS should facilitate partnerships between state Medical offices and other state and federal partners to ensure states are utilizing every resource available to fulfill their responsibility to screen children and eradicate lead exposure.”
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.
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