A critical step in providing access to existing federally funded programs for early intervention, as well as taking steps to eliminate lead from a child’s environment, is testing children for lead in their blood. A simple finger-prick and a three-minute wait is all that is required to rule out whether a child has been exposed to lead. Children who are not identified with elevated blood lead levels are not eligible for early childhood education programs funded by the federal government through IDEA Part C that are proven to improve brain functioning during the critical stage of brain development. Delaware has recently lowered the level for children to receive early intervention services. While the effects of lead exposure are irreversible, early education intervention and brain stimulation have been shown to reduce the need for special education once a child enters school and to increase their success in student outcomes.
Delaware’s current Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act requires universal testing for all children at age one, and then a questionnaire to be used at age two. This questionnaire is unable to capture all the various areas of lead exposure risk, some of which may not even be known to the parent. Our children are dynamic individuals that live in and visit homes of various ages, which may or may not contain lead paint. Our children play outdoors in areas where there could be contaminated soils or outdoor structures that may have peeling and flaking lead paint, including playground equipment, water towers, fire hydrants and bridges. Our children belong to families that are from diverse backgrounds and may have various hobbies or cultural artifacts that place children at risk for lead exposure, including imported spices and candies, vessels for water, cosmetics, art and crafts supplies, and even consumption of wild game or firearms use by a family member. It is not only difficult to capture all of these diverse activities and behaviors in a questionnaire to identify lead risk, it is probable that some of our children are falling through the cracks and many of those who are at risk are not being identified.
Approximately three hundred children are identified with elevated blood lead levels each year in Delaware, even though our compliance with our current universal testing requirement is poor (only 44%). Each day that we delay on taking substantive action to identify cases of lead poisoning, additional at risk children the essential services that are already available with federal funds, and the lead is not being removed from their environment. This continues a devastating trajectory for our children that will have lifelong and intergenerational effects.
The most efficient, most cost-effective, and least subject to error method for determining lead exposure is capillary (finger-stick) screening by health care providers at the point of care. Delaware PTA supports the expansion of annual universal testing to include capillary screening of children older than age one, and we ask the State of Delaware to completely discontinue the use of questionnaires for children at age two.
Lead poisoning is preventable, and Delaware must place sufficient effort and resources into reducing the sources of exposure. We look forward to working together to fix this issue for all children. Please support HB 222.