Almost every child in Pennsylvania could potentially encounter toxic lead in their homes, day cares, schools, or public water supplies, a report commissioned by the Joint State Government Commission found.
That’s why a group of bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday announced a package of bills designed to increase public awareness of lead contamination and create a “lead free environment” for Pennsylvania’s children.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, no level of lead can safely exist in a child’s bloodstream. But the Joint State Government Commission found that unsafe levels of lead are lurking in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
“There is no safe place,” Yvonne Hursh, counsel for the Joint State Government Commission, said Tuesday. “If your house, day care, school, and water system is new, you can probably say you’re safe. Otherwise, probably not.”
The senators, all members of the Senate Task Force on Lead Exposure, are following recommendations from the Joint Government Commission report, which calls for universal blood tests for children and testing in all school drinking water supplies, among other measures.
“It is almost irresponsible not to act on this,” said Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, who is sponsoring a bill that would require lead inspections in all of Pennsylvania’s day care facilities. “This is 100 percent preventable. What other disease do we know of with the same prevention rate?”
The World Health Organization says that children are particularly vulnerable to the harms of lead contamination. But its cumulative effects can also cause kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults, as well as birth complications in pregnant women.
One of the leading causes of lead contamination is lead-based paint, but lead pipes can also contaminate private and public drinking water supplies.
Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, said Tuesday that many of Pennsylvania’s homes and schools were built before the federal government banned the manufacture and use of lead-based paint in 1978.
Decades after the ban, lead-based paint remains present in millions of homes, sometimes under new layers of lead-free paint. Many children inhale or ingest the lead toxins when lead-based paint chips, crumbles, or peels with age.
A bill Yudichak is sponsoring with Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, would require universal blood testing for children.
Other bills the Task Force is backing aim to mitigate lead exposure in rental housing and in plumbing systems. Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, plans to introduce legislation to create a state-wide rental housing registry of certified lead-free homes, while Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, said he will introduce a bill to bolster consumer education of the state’s lead plumbing ban.
Members of the Task Force say it’s also necessary to eradicate lead in Pennsylvania’s schools.
State law says schools should test annually for environmental toxins, but not all of them do so.
A 2018 investigation from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News found that 10 public schools in Pennsylvania’s largest city had unsafe levels of lead dust from old paint.
A bill from Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, would amend Pennsylvania’s public school code to require annual lead testing in all public school drinking water supplies.
“There are water systems all across Pennsylvania that unfortunately have our children and adults in jeopardy,” said Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, who cited the Inquirer/Daily News investigation Tuesday while calling for action on lead. “We’re here to respond to the call and get something significant done.”
Hughes said the Task Force hopes to get its legislation passed by the time the General Assembly adjourns for summer recess in June.
Yudichak noted that many Task Force members chair prominent Senate committees, which will be key to advancing the bills through the Senate and delivering them to the House for a vote.