ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris Glendening outlined a plan Friday to add $15.6 million over three years to existing funding to fight lead-paint poisoning amid charges that the current screening processes are inadequate.
The initiative will concentrate on more efficient home inspection to detect the presence of lead, prosecution of landlords and property owners who do not comply with health regulations, and expansion of education, outreach and testing.
“The state has a moral obligation to come together and solve this problem,” Glendening said. The state now commits $2.9 million to lead programs. The federal government adds $2.7 million a year.
Exposure to lead paint can damage the brain and nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children can suffer from IQ deficiencies, anemia, hyperactivity, hearing disabilities and, in some cases, death. The use of lead paint was banned in 1978.
The number of lead poisoning cases in Maryland exceeds the national average, with the majority of cases in Baltimore. More than 7,000 Baltimore children suffer lead exposure effects each year.
Therefore, a majority of the money will go to Baltimore. Mayor Martin O’Malley pledged to add $6 million of city funds this year to the governor’s plan.
Glendening’s announcement comes a day after representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics criticized the state’s screening process. The screening program, established by the General Assembly in 1997, requires all children entering day care and nursery school be screened for lead.
This screening does not require a blood test. Pediatricians may determine the presence of lead through a questionnaire.
Dr. Charles Shubin, director of Children’s Health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore estimated only 15 percent of children younger than 6 are being blood tested.
“I’m concerned that we have a group of kids not as able to be educated as they need to be,” Shubin said.
A proponent of universal screening, Shubin would like to see lead testing become “as routine a procedure as immunization.”
Baltimore Health Care Commissioner, Dr. Peter Beilenson, has asked O’Malley to push the city council to approve lead screening during immunization. Children would receive blood tests at the same time they receive shots for mumps, rubella, and measles. Beilenson said waiting until the child enters school could mean years of lead poisoning going undetected.
Removing children from a lead-laden environment is the first treatment for poisoning. This has proven difficult in Baltimore because the city has failed to check on landlords and property owners who had been issued violations to see if the lead had been removed. Temporary houses for families are also lacking.
O’Malley vowed to be more aggressive in prosecuting landlords and property owners who fail to meet regulations and said the city filed 12 cases in the last week, and expects to file another 90 by September. No cases were filed in the preceeding five years.
The new money includes a million dollars for the hiring of two lawyers to prosecute cases in Baltimore and five inspectors. Another $600,000 will build safe houses for families to use during the removal of lead from their homes. Some of the expense of renovating will also be absorbed by the plan. Grants of up to $8,500 will be distributed to landlords and private owners to make their homes lead free. -30- CNS-1-28-00