Gov. Wolf Discusses Initiative for a Lead-Free Pennsylvania with Focus on Testing and Abatement

August 29, 2019

Pittsburgh, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today discussed his initiative to create a lead-free Pennsylvania by calling on the legislature to increase access to blood testing for children in alignment with federal guidelines, increasing local response efforts, and planning for training of more certified lead abatement professionals. The governor was joined at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh by hospital officials and medical staff, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, and legislators.

“Pennsylvania has the sixth-highest percentage rate for children suffering from lead poisoning and this is only the number who have been formally diagnosed,” Gov. Wolf said. “This is true in Pittsburgh and across the state. It’s imperative that we get to work ending lead exposure in our commonwealth, as Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have already begun doing.”

The state provided about $48 million to assist the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority with replacing underground lead pipes, which make up about 2,800 residential connections. Because of the location of some of those lines, homeowners were facing projects costing thousands of dollars.

This investment will help ensure prospective buyers in historic neighborhoods like Mount Washington, Morningside and Homewood aren’t deterred by outdated infrastructure.

“We’re working to reduce lead exposure in our historic school buildings, as well as from legacy water lines in our municipalities,” Gov. Wolf said. “We need projects like this across the commonwealth,” Gov. Wolf said. “To help keep families safe.”

The governor called on the legislature to increase access to blood testing for children in alignment with federal guidelines; something that Allegheny County is already doing.

Currently, only about 30 percent of children in Pennsylvania have been tested for lead, and about 4.6 percent of those children had elevated blood lead levels.

The federal guidelines advise parents and guardians to have their children given a finger prick test for lead exposure between age 9 and 12 months and then again at age 24 months.

If children are not given this test in that timeframe, it is recommended that schools encourage testing when children enter the classroom at age 6 or sooner. The preference, though, is for early detection so the source of the lead exposure can be eliminated before any permanent damage occurs.

“Lead remains a serious threat to public health, particularly for our children,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “With our region’s and state’s aging infrastructure, it’s imperative that we work cooperatively and collaboratively to provide resources to address this issue. We’ve been able to leverage local funds and partnerships to increase the work that we’re doing, and welcome Governor Wolf’s announcement of his new initiative to create a lead-free Pennsylvania that considers several components, including the need for universal blood testing, which has been successful in Allegheny County.”

“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has replaced some 4,500 lead service lines since 2016, with an emphasis on neighborhoods with high concentrations of children, pregnant women and elevated lead levels. That work has been helped greatly by Governor Wolf’s support of $49 million PENNVEST grant and loan, which will help PWSA replace a total of 8,000 lines by 2020. While there is still more to be done, our state and county partners are helping Pittsburgh do all it can to preserve one of its most important resources – clean and safe water,” Mayor William Peduto said.

In addition to calling for legislation for universal blood testing that follows the federal guidelines, Gov. Wolf outlined other initiatives associated with creating a lead-free Pennsylvania, including:

Local Response Teams
Local response teams will develop a plan to care for children with elevated blood lead levels. These teams will be modeled after the Plan of Safe Care teams that were developed in response to infants being born affected by substance use disorder.
These will ensure proper notification from physician to the Department of Health of cases of children with an elevated blood lead level, a coordinated follow up with the child’s family or caretaker, an assessment of the source of lead poisoning, and a response plan that includes available resources and opportunities for elimination of the source of lead exposure.

Workforce Training
The administration will develop training to get more Pennsylvanians certified in lead remediation. As of last week, there were 773 individuals and 124 companies certified by the Department to do lead remediation work. There are also 13 training providers accredited by the Department.
The goal is to identify resources to increase training in this vital area, especially in areas of the state where there is greater need for lead remediation services.

Resources for Families
The departments of Health and Human Service have updated online resources for families to access information on lead testing, lead poisoning and lead remediation. That information is available at on.pa.gov/lead.

“This is just the start of my plan for a lead-free Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “I plan to continue to work with the General Assembly as the fall session gets underway to pass legislation on universal lead testing and to ensure we are responding to the needs of all Pennsylvanians as we address this serious issue.”

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