New laws expand efforts to limit childhood lead exposure

New laws expand efforts to limit childhood lead exposure

(Calif.) With increasing awareness of the health risks posed by lead exposure, a pair of bills signed last week aim to improve public awareness and treatment of students suspected of lead exposure in schools and daycare facilities.

One bill signed Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown expands lead testing in drinking water within California’s child care centers and requires parents receive written information about childhood blood lead testing requirements.

The second bill will requires the California Department of Public Health to annually notify health care providers and parents about the risks and effects of lead exposure, and of the requirement that all Medi-Cal enrolled children be tested for lead.

Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said her bill will help to promptly diagnose and treat children exposed to lead in at-risk communities with older homes, school buildings and facilities.

“Kids can sometimes be unknowingly exposed to lead through a variety of sources, including toys, drinking water and even paint,” Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino and author of SB 1041, said in a statement. “Any level of lead exposure in children is dangerous and SB 1041 will help parents know the importance of kids receiving a blood lead level screening test as a precautionary measure.”

Lead is a neurotoxin that can attack the brain and nervous system causing coma, seizures or even death when high levels get into the human body. Research shows that children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning because their rapidly developing bodies and nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead.

Often found in old, peeling paint, contaminated soil or water that's passed through corroded lead-bearing pipes, exposure to lead can negatively impact children in a variety of ways even if they are exposed to only small amounts.

Studies have found that lead exposure in children can lead to impaired memory and self-control, increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and other attention issues, delayed in development of language skills and hearing loss, among other challenges.

Children dealing with such effects are more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability, struggle in school or drop out, engage in risky behaviors and come into contact with the criminal justice system.

According to a 2015 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tens of millions of U.S. children are estimated to have been adversely affected by lead over the last 20 years.

In 2016, California became one of only seven states and the District of Columbia nationwide that require schools to test their drinking water for lead, though public health advocates have said the law establishes a limit for lead in drinking water that is too lenient.

With that in mind, policymakers have sought to increase the number of children tested for lead exposure, and reduce the harmful effects by quickly diagnosing and treating those who have been exposed.

Under SB 1041, the State Department of Public Health must annually notify health care providers who perform periodic health assessments for children, as well as families, about the risks and effects of childhood lead exposure and the requirement that children enrolled in Medi-Cal receive blood screening tests.

An analysis of Medi-Cal billing data by the Environmental Working Group showed that nearly three-fourths of Medi-Cal enrolled children were not tested for lead exposure between 2012 and 2016.

Meanwhile, AB 2370–authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena–calls for the Department of Social Services and the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt testing requirements no later than January, 2021 to ensure that drinking water at child care centers does not contain elevated lead levels.

Licensed child day care centers will be eligible to apply for loan funding in order to remediate lead contamination and receive grants from the State Water Board for testing and remediating lead in their water systems.

The new law also requires child care providers to receive instruction on the risks of, and how to prevent, lead exposure. It also mandates that parents receive written information about childhood blood lead testing requirements.

Child day care centers located in buildings constructed before 2010 must have their drinking water tested for lead contamination levels sometime between 2020 and 2023, and every five years thereafter.

“Lead poisoning is a serious threat to children’s health,” Holden said in a statement. “Increasing lead testing for California’s high-risk children is one of the single biggest steps we can take to prevent lead poisoning.”

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