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On August 19, 2008 California took a big step towards preventing future harm in children when it passed The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act out of the California legislature. Senate Bill (SB) 775 seeks to increase the number of children tested for lead poisoning by utilizing the highly successful California immunization program. Lead poisoning remains one of the most pressing public health problems we face today.

As co-sponsor of the legislation, PSR-LA, has been working diligently to bring the voice of health professionals to this debate. We believe the voice of doctors, particularly pediatricians who witness the effects of lead poisoning in their practices, assisted in making this campaign a successful one.

PSR-LA became involved in this advocacy effort because of the large numbers of children in California who may have elevated blood lead levels but are going undetected, untreated and unmanaged because they have not been tested by their healthcare professionals. In 2007, approximately 40,000 children in California had blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 mcg/dL. This number is quite significant, despite the fact that only a small percentage of children—only 1 in 5 enrolled in public insurance programs—received a lead risk assessment. Even with federal mandates requiring public insurance programs, such as Medi-Cal, to assess children for lead exposure these programs fail to do so.

SB 775, authored by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, will increase lead screenings of children at high risk of lead poisonings in California by adding lead risk assessments to the yellow immunization card. The legislation provides parents with a notification tool that their child should be tested. The bill also improves reporting to ensure that children with elevated blood lead levels are appropriately tracked to guarantee that the state’s programs are reaching the most impacted families.

With no safe level of lead in blood, blood lead testing is the only effective way to detect lead poisoning before severe and often irreversible symptoms occur.

The best approach to lead poisoning is to prevent exposure in the first place, however, it will be years before lead is completely removed from the environment. In the meantime, testing to find elevated blood lead levels, case management and prevention of additional exposure is essential to protect children.  Increased testing will help parents understand that there may be a source of lead exposure in their child’s environment whether it is from paint, toys or candy.

SB 775 now moves on to the Governor’s desk for his signature. We will keep you posted on the bill’s progress and want to thank you for lending your voice in support of this campaign to improve the communities’ health and protect our most vulnerable from environmentally hazardous exposures.