Democratic Senators Call for Statewide Task Force, More Testing to Determine Extent of PA’s Lead Problem
5-bill package would help children, schools, day care centers; protect home buyers, create funding mechanism to help pay for lead remediation
HARRISBURG, March 23, 2016 – With 18 Pennsylvania cities testing higher than Flint, Mich., for elevated blood lead levels, and a growing chorus of evidence indicating a worsening statewide lead problem, Sen. Democratic Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Hughes, several of his Senate Democratic colleagues, and state health officials today offered a focused course of action to better protect children and their families.
“Whether it’s lead in the water or in the peeling paint that still clings to aging homes and school buildings, we believe we have a problem that will only grow worse if we do nothing to help now,” Sen. Hughes said. “Our five-bill package today will help us get a better understanding of lead and how it is threatening generations of Pennsylvanians.
“The effect of lead is not reversible, and it’s pretty serious,” Hughes said. “Experts are talking about lead’s potential relationship to learning disabilities, autism, and behavioral health problems. We must do more to stop this trend.”
Sens. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) and Hughes are each sponsoring one bill in the five-bill package:
- Senate Bill 1173 (Yudichak) would create a task force to study the scope of the lead issue, including an accounting of the age of the state’s housing stock, pipelines, school buildings and day care centers. It would also study best practices and make recommendations.
- Senate Bill 1174 (Haywood) would require every school building to be tested (water, paint, soil) for lead before a school year begins. Test results would be sent to parents of every enrolled child and posted on school district websites. If a school tests at lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control’s acceptable amount, it would be required to submit a remediation plan to the state Department of Education.
- Senate Bill 1175 (Kitchen) seeks to require lead testing (water, paint, soil) in day care centers licensed by the PA Department of Human Services. DHS would be prohibited from issuing a license to a day care operator if lead levels are higher than CDC recommended readings.
- Senate Bill 1176 (Fontana) would require any agreement of sale for real property in the commonwealth to include an option to have the water tested for lead. And,
- Senate Bill 1177 (Hughes) would create a “SuperFund for Lead Abatement” that could be used by schools, day care centers, and other organizations to defray lead remediation costs.
“In 2014, I sponsored legislation that was enacted to reduce the levels of lead in drinking water. It is a critical public health and environmental issue. We need to be doing everything we can to reduce the public’s exposure to lead,” Sen. Yudichak said. “That is why I am introducing SB 1173. This task force would look at all the pathways that the public can be exposed to lead and make recommendations as to how we can reduce the risk of lead exposure.”
“Just like we have put mechanisms in place to alert residents about the presence of radon or lead-based paint, lead in water can be a safety concern, especially for families where a mother is pregnant, they are expecting, or young children and middle-age men and women reside,” Sen. Fontana said about his SB 1176. “For between $20 and $50, that it is a small price to pay for peace of mind that your new home’s drinking water is safe.”
“When children consume lead their chances for healthy growth and a vibrant life dwindle,” Sen. Kitchen said in explaining why she is pushing SB 1175. “Hurting children with avoidable problems is something we cannot allow as Pennsylvanians, and we must make sure that our babies and toddlers are not exposed to lead dangers in the one place they spend many hours: day care.”
“We must do everything in our power to ensure that Pennsylvania’s children are safe,” Sen. Haywood underlined about SB 1174. “Monitoring lead levels in our schools is a fundamental step we can take in that direction.”
PA Department of Health Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Loren Robinson, MD, MSHP, spoke about the dangerous effects of lead exposure, as did Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group Field Organizer Michael Roles.
While she was unable to attend the press conference, Dr. Marsha Gerdes from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia confirmed that lead is a problem and efforts like these must happen.
“Prevention of exposure to lead from old lead paint or lead-tainted water should be a priority across Pennsylvania, which has a high prevalence of older housing and water systems,” said Gerdes, an early childhood psychologist at CHOP, as well as a senior psychologist at the hospital’s PolicyLab. “It is our youngest children who are at the highest risk of lead exposure due to drinking formula mixed with tainted water or inhaling paint dust as they crawl on the floor. For those children who already show elevated levels, we need to ensure that they are enrolled in the educational services or mental health services that can help them.”
Contact: Mark Shade