All Baltimore children under the age of 7 will be tested for lead poisoning under a bill passed last night by the City Council.
The measure comes as lead safety advocates announced free blood screenings this week to launch a series of events aimed at increasing awareness of the hazard. Lead poisoning can cause lifelong learning disorders and brain dysfunction.
The legislation requires parents or guardians to have their child tested. It also adds medical laboratories to the list of agencies that forward results of lead testing to the city Health Department.
In recognition of Maryland Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, government agencies, children's groups and area hospitals will be holding a five-hour lead safety fair at Franklin Square Park Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m., with free food, games and face-painting for kids.
In addition to free lead tests, parents will receive tips on nutrition, cleaning and repair methods designed to prevent their children from being poisoned in the fist place.
"There will be booths, kiosks and experts on hand from all kinds of agencies and groups to educate families in very practical terms about what they can do to protect their kids," said Susan Yum, a spokeswoman for Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute for children.
Throughout the week, the institute - Baltimore's primary treatment facility for poisoned children - also will provide free information from a kiosk in the lobby at 707 N. Broadway. A second major event is scheduled for Saturday at Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary at 1000 N. Montford Ave. in East Baltimore. Sponsored by the Maryland Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, the Parent Lead Forum is aimed at educating families about how to protect their kids from lead paint.
Each year, as many as 7,000 children are exposed to lead in Baltimore and 1,200 are poisoned - most commonly by coming into contact with hazardous dust from disintegrating lead paint in older houses. While most paint companies voluntarily removed lead from their products by 1960, it was not banned by the federal government until 1978.
A powerful neurotoxin, lead impedes proper brain and nerve development in young children. It can cause irreparable damage to growing bodies, including hearing loss, poor coordination and stunted bone growth. And it has been linked to a broad range of behavioral problems - among them, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and increased aggression.
Historically, children are most likely to be poisoned in the summer months, when families open windows for ventilation and children spend more time on exterior porches.
Friction between moving parts on windows has been recognized as the primary source of lead dust in Baltimore, with window wells commonly containing many times more toxic particles than are considered safe by law. Exterior paint used on older porches and outside woodwork often contains far more lead than interior paint and is also more toxic. Parents will be urged to adopt routine cleaning of all surfaces with hot water and detergents. The coalition also makes available specially equipped HEPA vacuum cleaners for families trying to deal with widespread hazards in the home.
For more information about coming events or lead safety issues, call the coalition at 1-800-370-5323. Staff writer M. Dion Thompson contributed to this article.