(Ohio) – Ohio one of two states to make lower levels of lead poisoning in children eligible for physical, developmental, and other therapies at an earlier age.
State officials have confirmed that except Michigan, which adopted a similar policy several years ago, Ohio and Illinois are the first states in the country to make the changes to the policy, per information obtained from the Legal Council for Health Justice in Chicago, an organization that pushed for the measure in that state.
The changes come amid increasing concern among the public about lead in drinking water and multiple high-profile cases about contamination. Lead poisoning has been linked with lower IQs and academic success, impaired speech, hearing and motor skill delays, and cognitive and behavioral delays.
Reports indicate such problems don’t emerge until after an affected child is around school age, but experts note it is most effective to intervene before the age of five.
Officials note the blood lead level that makes children eligible for services now in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan is 5 micrograms per deciliter. That puts them in line with the current recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC doesn’t specifically call for therapies the states are making available.
The CDC issued new recommendations despite a steady 40-year decline in the lead levels of American children, from an average of 15 micrograms in the late 1970s to about 1 in 2011-2014, the most recent data available. Officials note the decline is likely due to the introduction of unleaded gasoline and paint as well as environmental regulations that have removed lead from the soil, air, and water.
However, children can still be exposed to lead in several ways such as the contamination of drinking water. The most high-profile case recently occurred in Flint, Michigan back in 2014 when officials started drawing drinking water out of the Flint River without required corrosion controls, resulting in criminal charges against state and local officials.
Additionally, the CDC notes many older homes still have lead paint. They believe 24 million housing units have deteriorated lead paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated dust. An estimated 4 million young children are believed to live in those homes.
Experts add no level of lead in the blood is safe for children. Federal law currently requires that all Medicaid-insured children be screened for lead at 1 and 2-years-old.
Ohio has not yet determined how much the policy change will cost the state.