House approves lead-poisoning law

Tests would be required of city infants in first year

March 28, 2000|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates unanimously passed a Baltimore-backed initiative last night that would require all children in the city to be tested for lead poisoning as infants.

The legislation would require that every child's blood be tested for the toxic substance by age 1 and again by age 2 -- early enough, some hope, to identify potentially hazardous lead levels and head off the worst effects.

"This is an extraordinary step toward prevention, to get kids tested early," said Baltimore Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a co-sponsor of the bill, which must pass the Senate. "You can get them into treatment before they get too sick."

The proposal calls for testing of any child in a Maryland region considered at risk for lead poisoning, which includes the city and some other parts of the state. By 2003, parents would have to provide proof of tests when their children enter a public school system.

The results of infants' blood tests in Baltimore would be reported to the city Health Department. The idea is to ensure that children with high enough levels of lead -- at least 15 micrograms per deciliter of blood -- receive closer medical attention.

Lead can cause irreversible brain damage, especially in young children whose bodies are developing. Poisoning can lead to learning and emotional problems and, at high enough levels, retardation or death.

Most poisoning is tied to deteriorating lead-based paint, which was widely used in homes before it was banned in Baltimore in 1951 and nationwide in 1978.

One in five city children tested in 1998 had harmful levels of lead in their blood -- 10 micrograms per deciliter or more. But 31 percent of Baltimore youngsters under age 6 were tested.

The lead screening bill is part of what has become a coordinated assault by the O'Malley administration on the decades-old epidemic of lead poisoning in Baltimore -- including increased enforcement of existing laws and the introduction of several bills in the General Assembly.

A second bill pushed by the city would require landlords to post notices that their rental units have received state-mandated lead-paint hazard treatment.

A House committee killed a third bill that would have closed a loophole that has let some city landlords evade cleaning up lead dust and flaking paint.

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