California requires testing children considered at greatest risk for lead poisoning, which includes those enrolled in Medi-Cal and other programs for low-income children. We recently learned that over a nine-year period, DHCS did not ensure that millions of children were tested properly. Nearly half of 2.9 million eligible one-and two-year-old children were not tested at all, and another 740,000 missed one of the two required tests!
As a member of Assembly Health Committee, I participated in a hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to review findings by the California State Auditor about programs for children at high-risk for lead poisoning. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) oversees the statewide lead prevention program, and the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) oversees testing children for lead poisoning. Unfortunately, the results of the audit were not encouraging.
Children under the age of six are extremely vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead poisoning. Even a slight elevation in blood lead levels (BLL) can stunt development and lower a child’s IQ. Lead exposure can lead to brain and nervous system damage, learning and behavior problems, hearing and speech impediments, along with other lifelong health problems.
Obviously, much more needs to be done. Laboratories must report contact information along with the lead tests to support CDPH efforts to contact families and monitor results. DHCS must adopt performance standards to identify children needing the required tests and to remind providers to make those tests. The legally mandated CDPH analysis of at-risk areas of the state should be publicized so that reducing risks in those areas gets priority attention. CDPH and DHCS are on notice -- the Auditor will be watching for progress over the coming months.
The well-being of millions of California children is at stake. Let’s eliminate lead poisoning once and for all.