The director of the District of Columbia's lead poisoning program said yesterday that the city's Department of Human Resources plans to test the blood-lead levels of 1,000 young children living in ward three, a predominantly white, affluent area of Northwest Washington previously thought to be far removed from the inner-city "disease" of lead poisoning.
Lead program director Ronald Thomas' announcement of the testing program comes one week after the chief of the city's Department of Environmental Services released a study showing that 42 per cent of 500 children studied in the ward three area had high blood-lead levels.
The new tests are being conducted to either substantiate, or repudiate, the findings contained in the new controversial environmental services report, which has been questioned and critized by some experts who contend that the report was based on tests that were not conducted properly.
According to Thomas, DHR will begin testing the children Nov. 1, using two mobile test facilities, and will retest the children again next summer. Lead blood levels are usually higher in the summer months.
The children to be tested represent fewer than half the children between the ages of 9 months and 6 years estimated to the living in ward three.
There are no plans to test the same children tested by environmental services director Bailus Walker because Walker's task force destroyed its list of subject names to protect the identities of the children tested.
District Council member Polly Shackleton (D-ward three) said, however, she intends to make an attempt to reach the parents of the children tested by Walker to urge them to have their children retested. Shackleton, who represents the ward three, west of Rock Creek Park, said she will use community newspapers to seek out the families.
According to Walker's testing, 42 per cent of the 500 children had a mean blood-lead level of 44 micrograms of lead per 100 milliliters of blood. That is 14 micrograms above the level that the federal Center for Disease Control considers evidence of undue lead absorption.
However, the CDC call for the administration of an erythrocyte protcporphriny test - which determines if the lead is interfering with the blood's metabolism - along with the bloodlevel test to determine whether a health hazard exists.
High blood-lead levels, such as those found by Walker in 42 per cent of the children tested by the environmental services department, are only considered slightly abnormal when the Erythrocyte protoporphyrin (EP) level is also high. Walker did not test EP levels when he tested the blood of children living in ward three.
Walker also did not have the blood tested for lead content in a laboratory approved by the Center for Disease Control. He has not, in fact, revealed the named of the Laboratory doing the testing, contending that it is not necessary to do so.
Another aspect of the Walker report that has caused some consternation is the inordinately high proportion of children found to have high lead levels.
Earlier data in the city shows less than 25 per cent of the children tested in the worst inner-city of the children tested in the worst inner-city neighborhoods having elevated lead levels. The national rate for children with elevated levels is only about 7 per cent, according to Thomas of the human resources department.
Thomas said DHR's mobile units will move from block to block, along heavily traveled thoroughfares like Nebraska and Wisconsin Avenues, testing children between the hours of 8.30 a.m. and 4 p.m. If the number of children tested during the first week is low, the units will work one-half day on weekends, Thomas said.
Heavily traveled streets are being picked because Walker tested along such streets, and because Walker found that the closer the children lived to a major roadway, the higher their lead level was.
While much is known about the effects of blood-lead levels above 60, which indicate classic lead poisoning the levels found by Walker are in what one expert has termed a "scientifically gray area.
There has been some research that indicates that blood-lead levels as low as 30 can cause hyperactivity and mild retardation in young children. Most of those studies are preliminary, however, and some scientists question the findings.
Because there are no physical symptoms found in children with blood-lead levels in the 30s and low 40s, there is virutally no way - other than having the child tested - for parents to know if their child has such a level.
Thomas said yesterday the DHR test is simply designed to check Walker's findings. "Its's too risky," he said, "not to pursue it and get DHR to come in and get some samples."
Thomas said that any children who are found to have elevated lead levels will be referred to Georgetown University Hospital or Children's Hospital National Medial Center.