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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:

County Council Approves Lead Testing Mandate For Children

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Council members listen as Kathi Elliott, Executive Director of Gwen's Girls, testifies in favor of the proposed lead testing mandate on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.

Allegheny County Council approved on Wednesday a proposed mandate to perform blood lead level testing on all children between 9 and 12 months of age and again at age two.

During nearly an hour of public comment, council members heard from pediatricians, grandparents, environmental health advocates and others, most of whom were in favor of the proposal.

Pediatrician Deborah Bogen said UPMC’s Children’s Hospital routinely tests children’s blood around the ages required by the mandate, but that not every provider does. She shared the story of a family who switched to UPMC’s clinic and had never had their children’s blood lead level tested before. When she urged them to do so, she found that the youngest child had blood lead levels of 21 micrograms/liter, well above the action level of 10 micrograms/liter.

She said the family had recently renovated their home, but had been assured by their contractor that everything had been done to prevent the mobilization of lead dust.

“All the lead abatement had been careful inside the home, but not outside the home, and the sandbox was full of lead,” Bogen said.

Just one speaker urged council to vote against the lead testing mandate. Retiree Diane Schmitt, 63, said the proposal was unconstitutional, likening it to an unlawful, warrantless search.

Council passed the proposal 13 to 2, with only Sue Means (R-5) and Ed Kress (R-3) voting against the measure. Means called it an “unfunded mandate,” said it violated parental rights and questioned the county’s authority to require such testing in the first place.

“The county cannot mandate that a diagnostic test be given; the state can,” Means said. “The county cannot mandate that data be collected from the school district, but the state can.”

Council Vice President Nick Futules (D-7) called the passage a “no-brainer” and said the county should have made such a move a long time ago.

The bill also requires that schools report to the county how many children did and did not have their blood lead levels tested prior to entering kindergarten.

Health care practitioners are required to report the results of blood lead level testing to the county, so that it can follow-up to do risk assessments with families whose children have high blood lead levels.

“Lead testing gives us information, and without information we can’t really assess the scale of the problem that we are facing,” said Paul Klein (D-11). “It’s only with that information that we can deploy the resources we have in order to meet the challenges we face.”

There are exceptions for parents who object to the testing for religious or moral reasons, and the bill does not include any penalty for health care providers who fail to test children.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has indicated he would sign the bill. It would go into effect on January 1, 2018.