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Lead poisoning: a silent crisis

As a pediatrician at WellSpan, I have the privilege of caring for children and families across South Central Pennsylvania. It is both my duty and joy to advocate for the health and well-being of all children in our communities. Pediatric health care emphasizes the prevention of illness and early recognition of health risks. One such risk which demands our immediate and collective action is the hazard of lead exposure.

There is no safe level of lead in a child’s body, and its effects on the developing brain can be devastating. Every year, at least 7,000 children in Pennsylvania suffer from lead exposure and are at risk of permanent cognitive and behavioral deficits. This number is likely just the tip of the iceberg, as it is estimated that only one-fifth of children are currently tested for lead. Further, the burden of lead exposure does not fall equally on our populations. At WellSpan, our data reveals that non-white children are 2.8 times more likely to have abnormal lead test results. This stark disparity is unacceptable and calls for urgent intervention.

Lead poisoning is a silent crisis, as children affected are often only discovered after they begin to show symptoms. That is why early detection is crucial, and we must ensure that all children are tested so hazardous environments can be identified early. Senate Bill 514, sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker, is an important step toward this goal. This bill mandates blood screening for lead exposure for all children by the age of two, with a parental opt-out provision. It is estimated that 40,000 cases of elevated blood lead levels would be identified annually, thus enabling timely interventions to prevent further harm.

At WellSpan, we have taken proactive measures to address the risk of lead exposure as part of our Spotlight on Children’s Health program, an ambitious effort to address the physical, emotional, intellectual, and developmental needs of the children we serve. WellSpan is a leader among health systems in providing universal lead testing for children at 9 months and 24 months of age. Crucially, we have also brought point-of-care skin prick lead testing to our offices to make it convenient for parents and caregivers to have their child tested for lead. Last year alone, we performed more than 3,000 additional lead tests, identifying more than 400 elevated levels. These efforts underscore the effectiveness of testing for early detection of exposure and prevention of further harm.

We owe it to our children to ensure their environments are safe from lead exposure. I urge the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 514 and strengthen our commitment to the health and future of every child in Pennsylvania. Additionally, I call on parents and caregivers to have their children tested for lead exposure at the recommended ages. Together, we can ensure our children grow and thrive and can reach their full potential.

Dr. Christopher Russo, Director of Pediatrics and Medical Director for Quality and Innovation, WellSpan Health

Comments

Tammy Annette Robinson 1964-2024

For the past years, Tammy helped take care of her mother. She enjoyed watching game shows and listening to contemporary Christian music.

Robert William Gordon 1947-2024

Born August 18, 1947, a son of the late Merrill R. and Goldie E. Kotzmoyer Gordon, Bob liked to hunt and fish, and loved spending time with his family.

Janice Mae Keller 1938-2024

Janice always enjoyed shopping trips with her children and always used that opportunity to stop at her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden.

Ethel R. Smith 1935-2024

Ethel was a very loving and caring woman. She will always be remembered and cherished as a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend.

Sharon M. Matthews 1951-2024

Sharon enjoyed game shows on TV, mostly Wheel of Fortune. She also liked watching the Food Network and talk about what they made.

Ralph V. Foltz 1928-2024

Ralph enjoyed hunting, telling stories, and traveling around the United States on bus trips, alongside his wife Lois.

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