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Pittsburgh's history of lead in our water, paint, and soil continues to have enormous repercussions for the area's public health. Hidden Poison is a series on lead problems and solutions, reported by public media partners 90.5 WESA News, Allegheny Front, PublicSource, and Keystone Crossroads. Read more at our website: hiddenpoison.org.

Allegheny County Health Board Approves Regulation Requiring Lead Testing For Kids

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA
Erika Fricke asks the Allegheny County Board of Health to approve a regulation requiring infants to be tested for lead in their blood.

Dr. Trina Peduzzi has been working with babies as a community pediatrician for the last 16 years and has taken care of hundreds of children with lead poisoning.

“Most parents who get the phone call from me are completely unaware that their child was exposed to lead,” she said. “If we do not look for this problem we will not find it.”

The Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday approved a regulation requiring children in Allegheny County to be tested for lead in their blood.

The board unanimously approved the regulation that would call for two tests.  The first would be performed when a child is 9-12 months old and a second at 2 years.

Parents can opt out and there would be no penalty if a pediatrician does not offer the test, which is usually covered by insurance.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker said, as it stands, the rate of lead testing among 1-year-olds in the county is not acceptable.

“We took all the births that happened in 2015 and then we looked at 2016 to see how many of those individuals had gotten a lead test,” Hacker said. “In the vast majority of the county, under 50 percent had gotten tested.”

Under the regulation, if a child would test with levels between 5 and 9 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, parents would be given information about how to lower lead exposure risks. Above that, the county would offer home lead remediation help.

Jennifer Magill, of West View, spoke against the measure before the vote.

“The board’s plan to begin regulating mandatory testing of children in Allegheny County for elevated levels of lead in their blood is a misguided attempt to rectify a long standing problem in our community,” she said.

Magill said families should be offered remediation at the 5 microgram level.

Others who spoke against the regulation said they felt the county was overreaching.

Hacker said the detection effort would be coupled with a public education effort that is expected to help build awareness, which she said she hopes will prompt more parents to look for ways to lower risk in their homes.

Erika Fricke, health policy director at Allies for Children, spoke in favor of the regulation and said children in the region are at high-risk.

“It’s an old housing stock community, we’ve got exposure from previous industrial businesses here and so it’s important that it’s something that every family be attended to,” she said.

The regulation must still be approved by Allegheny County Council and signed by the county executive.