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Allegheny County Council approves lead testing requirement for children

Jeremy Boren
| Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 6:42 p.m.
Allegheny County residents weighed in at an Allegheny County Council meeting Wednesday on a proposal that would require blood lead testing for all young children. Most spoke in favor of the proposal.
Allegheny County residents weighed in at an Allegheny County Council meeting Wednesday on a proposal that would require blood lead testing for all young children. Most spoke in favor of the proposal.

Allegheny County Council members voted Wednesday as expected to approve legislation that would require all children at ages 1 and 2 to undergo a blood test to detect lead, a neurotoxin that impairs brain development in children who ingest lead-based paint chips or water tainted by lead pipes.

The bill passed 13-2. Most of those who spoke during the public comment portion of council's meeting in the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh voiced support for the legislation.

Allegheny County's Board of Health and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald support the measure. Fitzgerald is expected to sign the bill into law. If he does, it would go into effect Jan. 1.

“Lead testing gives us information, and without information we can't assess the problem that we are facing,” said Councilman Paul Klein, D-Point Breeze, who voted in favor of the plan.

Councilmembers Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, and Ed Kress, R-Shaler, voted against the legislation. There are five Republicans and 10 Democrats on the council.

Means said a mandate is not necessary and suggested instead that county officials write a letter to pediatricians urging them to test children for lead. Kress said it's not government's place to dictate medical testing.

“If you think your child needs to be tested for lead, test them. I think it should be left to the doctor and the parent,” Kress said.

The new rules, which have been under discussion for more than a year, include testing exemptions for religious or moral reasons, or if the screening would harm the health of the child.

Under the legislation, schools would be required to inform the health department about children who have been tested; however, students who have not been tested would not be prohibited from attending school.

The health department conducts home inspections to determine the source of the contamination when a child's blood lead level reaches 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers an “elevated level” to be 5 mcg/dL.

No amount of lead contamination is considered to be a safe level, particularly for children, health officials says.

The full text of the mandatory blood lead level testing rules and regulations is available here .

Jeremy Boren is a Tribune-Review editor. Reach him at 412-320-7935, jboren@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JeremyBoren.

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