Childhood Lead Poisoning Bill Signed into Law

Tom Irwin | @TomIrwinNH

On July 13, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a new law to better protect New Hampshire kids from the tragic and avoidable problem of lead poisoning. Passage of this important legislation is the culmination of a strong bipartisan effort, as well as the hard work of a broad group of stakeholders, including CLF.

In New Hampshire and elsewhere, the threat of childhood lead poisoning is very real. While lead paint was banned in 1978, the fact that we have a large proportion of older housing means that it remains on and in many of our homes throughout our state and region. And when that paint deteriorates (i.e, when it flakes, peels or chips), or is subject to abrasion from the friction of windows or doors being opened and closed, or is disturbed through unsafe painting or renovation activities, kids are at risk.

Each year, more than 1,000 kids are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New Hampshire. And because even low levels of exposure can result in permanent, irreversible harm – such as loss of IQ, and cognitive and behavioral impairments – it’s essential that we address this problem. SB 135, the legislation just signed into law by Governor Hassan, takes the following important, much-needed steps in doing so.

  1. Ensuring more kids are screened.

As I discussed in a prior blog, not nearly enough kids in New Hampshire are being screened for lead poisoning. In 2013, for example, of the 23,554 one- and two-year olds who should have been tested (because they live in high risk communities), only 10,830 actually were. That’s less than 40 percent. To prevent kids from falling through the cracks, and to provide kids the treatment and protection they need, New Hampshire can and must do better. Recognizing this fact, the new law establishes a screening rate milestone of 85 percent to be achieved by 2017, and requires state rules to be developed if the milestone is not achieved. It also establishes the Childhood Lead Poisoning & Screening Commission, which will explore ways to ensure the state’s screening goals are met.

  1. Getting critical information to parents and landlords.

When a child is found to have lead in his or her blood, it’s essential that steps be taken to prevent further exposure to lead hazards. Under prior law, the State was required to reach out to the parents of children with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl) or higher. As a result of this new law, the State will now be providing important information to the parents of children with much lower blood lead levels (5 mcg/dl or higher), to ensure they understand the consequences of lead poisoning and the steps that can be taken to avoid lead hazards. Information also will be provided to landlords, to enable them to take action to eliminate lead hazards when a tenant’s child has been found to be poisoned.

  1. Tackling the need to prevent poisonings from happening in the first place.

Of course, the most important strategy in addressing childhood lead poisoning is to prevent poisonings before they happen. As previously discussed, New Hampshire’s approach for addressing this problem is largely reactive – allowing children to be poisoned (at a blood lead level of 10 mcg/dl or higher) before action to eliminate lead hazards is required. Importantly, the Commission established by the new legislation will explore new approaches to eliminating lead hazards, such as an Essential Maintenance Practices program that would ensure that rental properties are maintained in a way that eliminates lead hazards. It also will explore new approaches to ensure that contractors and property owners are aware of lead-safe painting and renovation practices, including the federal Renovation, Repair and Painting program addressing lead-safe practices.

We’re very pleased to see SB 135 signed into law and to have been part of the effort to make this legislation happen. It’s an important step toward protecting more and more New Hampshire kids from this unfortunate and entirely preventable disease. To learn more about the problem of childhood lead poisoning, visit my other blogs on the topic:

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