BALTIMORE – Pollution and lead exposure among Maryland’s children has decreased over the years, but more work needs to be done to improve childhood health, officials said Friday.
Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene John Colmers and Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson announced the results of Maryland’s Children and the Environment report at the Baltimore Green School/Afya Public Charter School, as a sixth-grade class sat on a porch behind the podium during the news conference.
“We have made tremendous progress in increasing our air quality,” said Wilson. Maryland’s air quality has improved by 40 percent, Wilson said.
In 1999, one graph of the report showed, all children of all races in Maryland were exposed to ozone levels above the national standard, 85 parts per billion. By 2006, only a little more than 20 percent of Maryland children were exposed to high ozone levels. Ozone is the major component of smog.
Between 1995 and 2006, the percentage of children aged 0-72 months with high lead levels in their blood decreased from 17.2 to 1.2 percent. The decrease occurred as the number of children receiving testing for lead exposure increased, from 59,700 in 1995 to 103,000 in 2006, according to the report.
There has been “tremendous progress in reducing the incidence of lead poisoning,” Wilson said.
The 78-page report was the result of increased coordination between the state health and environment departments. It “symbolizes the close integration of health data and environmental data,” Wilson said.
Despite the progress made in improving air quality and reducing lead poisoning, there is “much more to do” as well as more information to collect, said Wilson.
Reducing the disparities among minority and low-income children is one area in need of improvement.
When it comes to asthma, for example, the fatality rate for American Americans in the U.S. is four times higher that of whites, said Dr. Peyton Eggleston.
More research also needs to be done regarding mercury levels in fish and humans, said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, who introduced the speakers during the news conference.
“We know something about that, although not a lot,” Mitchell said, who is the director of Environmental Health in the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Advocates and professionals on behalf of children’s environmental health praised the study, and encouraged more research in discovering the relationship between the environment and children’s health.
“What kids learn, they take home,” said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director for The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. Norton said it was important for children to learn how the environment affects their health.
In 1959, University of Maryland’s School of Medicine was the only institution in the country looking into the relationship between lead and children, said Dr. Loren Garretson, a pediatric toxicologist who was a student during the time.
Garretson said he was “proud” to be a part of that group and is pleased that officials are “taking a logical step” in this field of study.
After the news conference, sixth-grader Christian Patterson, 11, said he hopes people will stop smoking and stop littering in the wake of the findings.