Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Tackling the Challenge of Lead Exposure

Posted on March 7, 2016

The Children of Flint are not alone.

More than 8,000 children in Flint have been exposed to lead after a budget-cutting decision to switch drinking water sources. This public health emergency in Michigan is an important reminder of the lead-related dangers that exist in our own state. Currently, Pennsylvania is tackling a lead toxicity problem in children from exposure to lead-based paint in old houses. In fact, 18 cities in Pennsylvania had higher levels of lead exposure in 2014 than Flint, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Health annual report. Any house built before 1978 is considered at risk for having a dangerously high level of lead. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 40% of Pennsylvanians rely on pre-1978 housing, and these old homes often house the poorest families in the state. And it’s the youngest children who are most likely to be exposed because they are most likely to ingest chips or flakes of old paint.

Lead poisoning has been found to have not only short-term consequences but also long-lasting negative impact on a child’s brain. Lead-exposed children can struggle with learning disabilities, lower cognitive abilities and poor problem solving. Children with lead poisoning can also encounter behavioral problems including hyperactivity and inattention. After being exposed to lead at an early age, these children are at an increased risk of dropping out of high school and entering the juvenile justice system.

The crisis in Flint has garnered national headlines and drawn attention to the devastating effects of lead poisoning. In addition to addressing the contaminated water, health care professionals in Flint are calling for increased preventive measures, including Head Start and Early Intervention for young children with delays.

So what can Pennsylvania do to address its lead crisis?

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