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Environmental group awaits governor's signature on bill

Earlier this month, California legislators gathered in Sacramento and voted unanimously to approve laws that will provide testing for lead exposures to hundreds of thousands of additional at-risk youngsters in the state. The present program has struggled with identifying the approximately two-thirds of California kids with lead poisoning.

New rules for lead poisoning testing

The bill, known as AB 1316, was co-sponsored by Democratic Assembly Members Cristina Garcia, Bell Gardens, and Bill Quirk of Hayward. It mandates that the state Department of Public Health (DPH) revise their regulations for the times when doctors test for lead exposure in children's blood.

Assemblyman Quirk — a former employee of both the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — stated, "As a scientist, I spent most of my career working to safeguard the public's health and safety, locally and globally." He added that the bill he co-sponsored "do[es] the same. AB 1316 will go a long way in protecting our . . . children from lead contamination."

Concluding that "[t]here is no safe exposure to lead," the assemblyman voiced his gratitude for the support given to the bill by his fellow legislators.

More factors considered in lead-poisoning cases

These new rules force the DPH to consider multiple factors that have the potential for exposing California kids to lead, a dangerous neurotoxin. These factors include drinking water that flows through lead pipes and living near freeways and/or lead smelters.

According to the Public Health Institute in Oakland, it's estimated that in the 11-year period from 1999 to 2010, their intervention group, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, was only able to identify 37 percent of the kids in California who had lead poisoning. Under both current state and federal laws, all minors on public assistance programs like Medi-Cal must get tested for lead poisoning.

Even though the laws require testing for children at 1 and 2 years of age, the program has fallen far short of those requirements. Once the new bill becomes law with Gov. Jerry Brown's signature, as many as 300,000 additional children may get annual tests for lead poisoning. The bill stipulates that at-risk children "of any age" can be tested if their health care provider prescribes it.

Commitment to keeping kids safe

Other provisions of the bill mandate that the DPH reach definitive goals to increase understanding of high lead exposure in kids and reduce its frequency. They also will offer more information to California consumers about the agency's progress in meeting their goals and enhance their data management system. This will ultimately support the case management and analysis of children with lead poisoning.

The bill's lead sponsor was the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The group collaborated with additional public interest organizations to ensure that the legislation passed.

If you are the parent of a child who was exposed to lead poisoning in the home or elsewhere in the community, it may be possible to sue for your child's present and future losses due to this exposure.

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