Congress is poised to eliminate funding for lead poisoning programs, despite new scientific conclusions that toxic metals can harm children if exposed at half the levels previously thought, according to a report Monday in the Boston Globe.
The Globe reported that congressional committees have already voted to eliminate all remaining funding for lead poisoning prevention programs and the cuts are expected to become law by the end of the year to help reach overall federal spending reduction levels.
The cuts, the newspaper warned, are expected to be particularly hard on Massachusetts because it has some of the country's oldest buildings that still contain dangerous levels of lead paint. The newspaper noted that children in Massachusetts are "more likely to suffer lead poisoning than in all but five other states," according to data compiled by federal authorities. The data indicates that Rhode Island has the highest rate of lead poisoning per resident.
"This is very concerning, because we've been appropriately advised to be more worried about children with lower levels of lead in their blood at a time when they are taking away the very resources we have all relied on to address this public health crisis," Suzanne Condon, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, told the Globe. "This means children may go longer without being identified as having lead poisoning."
Lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978 because exposure was found to cause learning disabilities, development and behavioral problems in children. In November, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation on determining harmful levels of lead that cut by half the amount of toxic metal in blood thought to be harmful to children, the Globe reported.
"What's motivating this change is that recent reports suggest children have health effects below the old level of concern," advisory panel chairman George Rhoads was quoted as saying.
Rhoads, professor of epidemiology at New Jersey's University of Medicine and Dentistry, told the paper that the panel's recommendation will be reviewed by the CDC next year. To put the problem in perspective, he told the Globe that the advisory panel had found in the past that hazardous levels of lead could build up in a child's blood, even if exposed to the equivalent of a small packet of sugar spread over an area the size of a football field.
Using that guideline, the Globe said, the 800 children in the state last year considered to be at risk from lead exposure would increase to 8,000 if CDC adopts the panel's new guidelines.
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who has been trying to reverse some $34 million in prevention program cuts, told the Globe that lead poisoning is "a preventable tragedy." But without federal funding, he said "fewer parents would be able to protect their children from lead hazards that may be present in their homes."