Gov. Tom Wolf proposed last week that every Pennsylvania child under age 2 be tested for lead poisoning. As LNP reported, the governor called on the state Department of Health to work with the General Assembly and community partners to draft legislation to require universal testing statewide. Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of child lead poisoning in the country.

This is still an issue. It shouldn’t be but it is. It’s hard to believe that almost 40 years after lead paint was banned from use in housing, we’re still dealing with cases of children exposed to lead. But we are.

And unless Pennsylvania wants to hold the title of America’s Lead Poisoning Leader, we need to do something about it. The sooner the better.

In Lancaster County, at least 11 percent of children tested were found to have elevated lead levels in their system, LNP’s Susan Baldrige reported last week. The children whose levels were elevated were found to have 5 or more micrograms of lead in their system, ranking the county one of the worst in the state and among the worst in the country — worse even than Flint, Michigan, where children were poisoned by lead in drinking water. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in young children is considered extremely serious.

Lead paint is common in pre-1978 buildings, which are prevalent in Lancaster. Sources of lead can be old paint, plumbing fixtures and water.

Pennsylvania is behind only Minnesota in the number of children with elevated lead levels.

All children in the commonweatlth should be tested and we support the governor’s plan to do so.

“This is an excellent idea that will help protect children in Pennsylvania,” Susan Eckert, executive director of the Partnership for Public Health, told LNP. “Universal testing is a requirement in other states, like Maryland. It would identify children who have lead poisoning but were never suspected to have it.”

As it stands, less than 30 percent of children under the age of 2 in Pennsylvania have been tested, according to the state Department of Health.

If children with elevated lead levels can be identified, they can be treated, which is critical because, as Baldrige reported, even small amounts of lead in a child’s system can cause serious cognitive, learning and behavioral issues that will last a lifetime.

“I think people should recognize by doing nothing about this problem we are decreasing the intellectual ability of thousands of children in Pennsylvania,” Dr. Marilyn Howarth, an environmental toxicology physician at the University of Pennsylvania, told LNP.

Parents also need to be involved in this process. As Dr. Rachel Levine, acting secretary of health and physician general, said last week, parents should talk to their pediatricians and identify risk factors. Even limited exposure to lead can be dangerous.

Community health nurses provide education to parents and also help monitor children whose lead levels are identified as high. The department also operates a toll-free lead information line, 1-800-440-LEAD (5323), to provide information and referrals for concerned parents or professionals.

Universal testing makes sense and we hope the Department of Health and the Legislature can work together to draft a bill that requires testing for children under 2. It’s pretty clear, based on recent history, that testing will not become a priority without legislation.

Testing rates varied greatly from county to county in 2015, from 12 percent of children to 47 percent.

But only 16 percent of Lancaster County children were tested for lead in 2015. And the county has the fourth highest population of children 2 years of age and younger in the state — some 14,500 children in that age range.

A Journal of Pediatrics study indicated that about 1.2 million children in the U.S. were estimated to have had elevated blood lead levels between 1999 and 2010.

Pennsylvania trails other states in measures to protect children from lead exposure. Nineteen states have passed laws intended to do just that — from requiring the testing of children to making sure the water sources in schools and day care centers are safe.

Prevention and remediation efforts can be effective and should be part of the solution. For example, in January, Lancaster stopped the opening of three day care centers in the city after discovering unsafe levels of lead, its first enforcement of a new law aimed at protecting children.

The governor’s proposal is reasonable and it’s up to our General Assembly to draft legislation as quickly as possible so children get tested.

Lead poisoning might be an old problem but it’s still here, mainly because we’re not doing enough to get rid of it.

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