More Maryland children than ever getting tested for lead poisoning

The state is starting to see gains from the requirement beginning last year that all children be tested for lead poisoning at the ages of one and two.

The Maryland Department of the Environment reported last week that the number of 1- and 2-year-olds tested for lead in 2016 was 12.2 percent higher than the average for the previous six years. The largest increases were in Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties, where testing rates increased by more than half.

Universal testing of children began in March of 2016.

Testing of children up to six years in 2016 was up 7.1 percent over the average from 2010 to 2015. A total of 118,619 children were tested for lead in 2016. The average number tested from 2010 to 2015 was 110,706.

The state decided last year to address lead risk for all children, not just those living in certain areas, such as neighborhoods with older housing. Even small amounts of lead can hurt development of the brain in young children. Early testing can minimize the harm.

“We can’t wait until there are symptoms,” said Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore health commissioner. “We should test and get children help before there are symptoms.”

The universal testing was supported by advocates and health officials trying to eradicate children’s exposure to lead.

“We don’t want to miss kids,” said Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO of The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a nonprofit focused on eradicating childhood lead poisoning. “There may be a child who lives in an old home in a pocket of newer homes.”

The state made it easier for doctors and other health care providers to conduct onsite or point-of-care testing, in which they provide immediate results, because it can be difficult to get patients to return for results. The number of providers who offer such testing grew from 66 in 2015 to 94 in 2016.

Wen said the city health department will soon begin offering testing on demand at community events.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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