Something as important as protecting children from lead poisoning should come with legislation — and the taxpayer money to back it up.
So as state lawmakers and the governor enter the final week’s frenzy over the state budget before the April 1 deadline, they should both approve new legislation to lower the threshold for lead in children’s blood and provide the necessary funding for county health departments to support the additional workload they’ll encounter enforcing the new standards.
The bill (A5779/S1028) would change the definition of “elevated blood lead levels” from the current 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of whole blood to 5 micrograms.
Lowering the threshold will allow public health officials and doctors to take action more quickly to address children’s exposure to lead, allow them to provide treatment more quickly, and perhaps lessen the severity of damage.
Children become exposed to lead through peeling paint and dust in older homes, as well as through lead in pipes.
Lead paint exposure is particularly prevalent in poorer neighborhoods.
Lead can affect the production of blood cells and the absorption of calcium needed for strong bones and teeth, muscle movements, and nerves and blood vessels. High lead levels can lead to brain and kidney damage.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blood test data from 2014 indicated that nearly 2,000 children in the state outside New York City had lead levels between 5 and 9 micrograms and that 6,000 children in New York City had that level in their blow. So lowering the threshold will have meaningful health impacts.
But as with any change worth making, this legislation comes with a price tag.
Counties will have to conduct more home inspections for lead contamination and provide treatment for thousands of more children.
The New York State Association of County Health Officials estimates the new standards could cost county health departments about $35 million more per year in additional nurses and staff, the Times Union reported.
While officials are unsure what exact steps county officials would have to take to address the new thresholds, it’s clear that since it will affect many more children that more staff will be needed.
The bill passed the Assembly earlier this month and is currently before a Senate committee.
If county officials are estimating that $35 million is needed, then lawmakers must put at least that much money in the budget to support this legislation.
If officials later find the problem isn’t as extensive as they thought, then the state can find other uses for the money.
But at the outset, there has to be enough money available up front for the counties to do a full and effective job dealing with a potential increase in cases and inspections.
Our children’s health demands it.