Lawmakers want mandatory lead testing
February 9th, 2011
Omaha, NE – Lawmakers are trying again to make lead testing a requirement for kindergarteners.
Children enrolling in kindergarten are currently required to go through a series of immunizations and vaccines before they can head to school. Some are controversial with parents, but each year, they roll up their children’s sleeves and help them take their shots. Omaha Senator Brenda Council’s bill heard at the Capitol Tuesday would add a lead screening to that annual ritual.
“This is much simpler than adding another immunization,” said Doug Clark, who testified on behalf of the Douglas County Health Department. He said lead poisoning is the biggest environmental danger facing children, and one of the easiest to prevent.
There are “no concerns over side effects of a vaccine,” he said, “just a simple finger stick or a venous draw, potentially preventing irreparable damage in a child’s life.”
Lead poisoning has been linked to behavioral problems, developmental delays and learning disabilities. It’s primarily a concern for children living in homes built before 1978 – before lead-based paint was banned. Council’s bill would link parents to resources to help kids already impacted by lead poisoning. If they show developmental delays, parents could tap into federal funds designated for special needs children. It would also help educate parents on how to avoid lead exposure. Crystal Rhodes, an advocate for lead remediation in Omaha, said “At this day and age, it’s a little bit surprising that we’re even discussing whether or not we want to require a test to find out if our children are poisoned, given the number of children who are at risk of the poisoning.”
Nobody testified in opposition to the bill. But, as it did last year when Council introduced a similar proposal, it may come down to cost. Last year, it got stuck in committee, after the Department of Health and Human Services contended additional testing would be too expensive. This year, the Department has included a cost estimate of $150,000 annually. But Council said those numbers are skewed. Supporters also say the cost of not treating lead poisoning far outweighs that of the initial lab test. During the hearing, no mention was made of the risks of lead in soil – something the Environmental Protection Agency has spent millions trying to remediate in Omaha.