Protecting New Hampshire Kids from Lead Poisoning: Progress (But We’re Not There Yet)

Tom Irwin | @TomIrwinNH

Every year, several hundred New Hampshire children are found to be poisoned by lead. Even at low levels of exposure, lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that can result in permanent, irreversible harm, such as cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, hearing loss, and delayed language skills.

And, with so many New Hampshire homes and apartments built before the 1978 ban on lead-based paint, we continue to put our kids at risk today. In 2015 alone, 660 children in the state were found to have blood lead levels equal to or higher than the Center for Disease Controls’ recommended action level of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Testing and Prevention are Key

To protect our kids from this silent threat to their health, it’s critical that we dramatically increase the number of children tested for lead. Unfortunately, not nearly enough New Hampshire children are being tested, meaning that kids are undoubtedly falling through the cracks – not being diagnosed with lead poisoning and not being protected by needed measures to eliminate their exposures to this hazard. And of course, the number of kids actually poisoned is likely much higher than we currently know.

It’s also essential that we adopt measures to prevent kids from becoming poisoned in the first place. Currently, New Hampshire’s regulatory approach is far too reactive. Kids have to be poisoned before the state will address the lead hazards that caused the poisoning in the first place – meaning that we’re essentially using our children as lead sensors to determine where problems exist, and only addressing those problems after the fact.

Legislative Progress

Fortunately, we’re making progress in improving New Hampshire’s lead laws. In 2015, New Hampshire enacted legislation establishing the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention & Screening Commission. Over the past 18 months, the Commission has explored strategies to increase blood lead screening rates in our state and to reduce risks to lead exposure. In December, the Commission issued its first annual report, with a number of key recommendations.

Right now, an important bill – SB 247 – is moving its way through the New Hampshire legislature. It passed the Senate last week and is now proceeding to the House. While scaled back from its original form because of landlord opposition, SB 247 advances important, much-needed changes by:

  • requiring all 1- and 2-year-old children to be tested for the presence of lead in their blood, with the costs covered by insurance;
  • establishing a fund of $3 million per year, over the next two years, to assist landlords in removing lead hazards;
  • requiring the State to share needed information about childhood lead poisoning with the parents of any child poisoned at very low levels, as well as with landlords, to enable protective actions as soon as possible; and
  • requiring that certain measures be taken, including at schools and childcare facilities, to identify and address any problems with lead in drinking water.

We’ve known for a long time that lead is dangerous to the health of our kids, and that to protect our children’s full potential, we must put an end to childhood lead poisoning. Especially now, when the Trump administration is threatening to dismantle important programs designed to protect kids from lead, it’s critical that we do a better job at the state level.

To receive action alerts regarding our childhood lead poisoning advocacy in New Hampshire, including opportunities to lend your voice in support of SB 247, take our lead pledge here. Together, we can protect kids from the preventable tragedy of lead poisoning.

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