Early lead testing would combat major health concern

For the Monitor
Published: 5/8/2017 11:14:58 PM

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee will hear Senate Bill 247, a bill addressing lead poisoning, which is a persistent threat to the health of children in New Hampshire. Among other things, SB 247 will lower the threshold for action on elevated blood lead levels in children, require testing for all 1- and 2-year-olds, and require insurance companies to cover the cost of certain expenses related to testing. These are incredibly important measures, because, based on the percentage of homes built before 1978 when lead paint was banned, more New Hampshire homes could be contaminated than any other state. And dust from leaded house paint is still the biggest source of childhood lead poisoning.

Working at Magellan Diagnostics, a company that has been focused on lead exposure for over 40 years, I unfortunately learn about cases of lead poisoning on a regular basis, and can assert that it is not a problem of the past. The public doesn’t hear about it because most kids have no symptoms until years later when the brain damage caused by early lead exposure appears. It shows up when kids can’t perform on grade-level reading or math tests, and can’t sit still in school, at which point no one is thinking about lead.

The city of Flint, Mich., has highlighted lead poisoning on a national scale. In that community in 2015, blood lead testing was not being done routinely. And, just as lead poisoning went unrecognized in Flint, without adequate testing, children in New Hampshire will be missed, too. According to New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, less than 17 percent of New Hampshire children are tested for this environmental poison.

Why are four out of five kids not getting tested? One big problem is that, often, parents don’t follow through with their doctor’s instructions to have their child tested because they look and act healthy. Or doctors don’t order the test because parents don’t realize that their home or other household items are sources of lead. What’s more, we now know that kids can be exposed by a surprising array of sources – from drinking water in a school fountain, to tainted spices and candy, to toys imported from places like China, to antiques, to fishing sinkers, to brass keys and faucets.

SB 247 makes significant progress toward helping to identify New Hampshire kids who are at risk, and ensure that the right follow-up happens.

Amy Winslow is the president and CEO of Magellan Diagnostics, a medical device company based in North Billerica, Mass.

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