The fight to rid Philadelphia homes of toxic lead paint is at a standstill, but the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has taken a big and necessary leap forward to bring greater clarity to the crisis.
Last week, PDPH released the 2017 Childhood Lead Poisoning Surveillance Report, confirming that the number of poisoned kids remains oppressively intractable with 2,206 poisonings that year. This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, of course, because there is still toxic lead paint in many homes with young children.
But the Surveilance Report contains levels of clarity as urged by the Mayor’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group.
Among the sought-after data the report now incorporates:
• How many kids get tested twice by the age of 3 (in accordance with CDC guidelines)
• Plotting the data for zipcodes where kids are getting the recommended testing
• Separating out the reporting of how many new cases of poisoning occurred from the data set of all kids poisoned
The report shows that a shockingly low 28% of children are being tested twice by the age of 3, leaving us with the disturbing reality that there are more kids who are poisoned than the current count shows and that the poisoning of those kids may never be discovered.
We also have a better idea of where in the city kids are undertested. In 25 zip codes, less than 30% of the kids have been tested following the CDC guidelines. But there are 28 zip codes where 23-40% of children fail to be tested once by the time they are two.
It’s imperative that we reach the invisible cohort, those poisoned but untested kids. Medicaid and CHIP managed care organizations must do a better job of testing their kids, as they are mandated to do.
The Surveillance Report also lists City services that were offered to poisoned kids. Alarmingly, only 160 children, or only 8% of those poisoned in 2017, had their homes remediated for lead paint by the City. This is in spite of the fact that the City indicates paint in homes is overwhelmingly the cause of poisoning.
The 2017 report bodes well for more expansive reports in the future, including, we hope, disclosure regarding the source of lead poisoning (i.e. lead dust or flakes, soil, etc.) and whether a contaminated property is owner-occupied or a rental property.
To Public Citizens for Children and Youth, the next steps are clear. "The PA Department of Human Services must seek approval to use Medicaid funds to remove the toxic paint from the homes of kids already poisoned, for the sake of those kids and all of the kids who will live there in the future. Most importantly, City Council must protect kids by expanding the ordinance to require testing of all rental properties built before 1978 so that we can drive down the rate of children poisoned in the first place," the group said in a statement.
"Long story short: We’re pleased to see the City has adopted our recommendations and have turned the corner on sharing more fulsome data. But this new clarity only brings into sharper focus the scale of Philadelphia’s lead crisis and the urgency needed for decisive action."