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Maryland to test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead

Deteriorating paint on window sills in older homes can get on children’s hands and be ingested, increasing the likelihood of lead poisoning. (iStock)

The state of Maryland will expand its testing for lead poisoning to all one- and two-year-old children in the state, regardless of where they live, the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Monday.

Currently, the state requires testing only for children enrolled in Medicaid or living in Baltimore and other at-risk areas, where there are high concentrations of older homes that predate lead-paint laws.

Under the new regulations, health-care providers will be responsible for ensuring that children undergo testing at the appropriate ages, and parents will have to provide proof of lead-poisoning testing when their children enter licensed day-care programs or public pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade. Insurance providers and patients will cover the screening costs.

“We have made great progress in reducing lead exposure in Maryland over the past 20 years,” Hogan said in a statement. “However, we need to test all children, not just a handful, in order to put an end to childhood lead poisoning in Maryland once and for all.”

[How companies make millions off lead-poisoned, poor blacks]

Lead paint can impair children’s cognition and behavior. For years, most Maryland children known to have lead poisoning lived in Baltimore rental homes built before 1950, when the city prohibited lead paint. But state health officials say an increased proportion of lead poisoning cases are now linked to newer rental homes and owner-occupied units in other parts of the state.

A recent study by Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of the Environment showed that every jurisdiction in the state has at least some children with lead levels exceeding the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

“We are making progress but have much more to do to win the battle against childhood lead poisoning in Maryland,” said Environment Secretary Benjamin Grumbles, whose department houses the state’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

This summer, Maryland Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth C. Holt caused a firestorm of criticism by suggesting that poor mothers in the state might deliberately try to poison their children in order to obtain free housing. He said developers raised the possibility with him.

Holt apologized for his remarks, and Hogan distanced himself from the comments, saying they did not reflect the administration’s policy.

On Monday, Hogan declared this week Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in Maryland.

“I encourage all Maryland businesses, government agencies, and citizens to reflect on how they can educate others, prevent lead poisoning, and work to eradicate this completely preventable disease,” the governor said.