BALTIMORE (Oct. 25, 2021) – In commemoration of Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, the Maryland Department of the Environment, together with the Maryland Department of Health and the Department of Housing and Community Development, urges Marylanders to continue to be vigilant in working toward eliminating this preventable disease.
The agencies remind Marylanders of the importance of getting children tested for possible exposure to lead – and that resources are available to help protect families. At an event today, one Baltimore County family’s experience with lead poisoning and remediation highlighted how the state is working to reduce lead hazards for all Marylanders.
“When we found out my son had lead poisoning, we didn’t know what to do,” said Magain Fitzgerald, whose 2-year-old son tested positive for high lead levels in his blood, affecting his behavior and development. “I am so glad that someone reached out to us to let us know there were resources which could help us.”
Governor Larry Hogan has proclaimed Oct. 24-30 Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in Maryland.
A national leader in lead poisoning prevention
Maryland is a national leader in reducing the risk of childhood lead poisoning from lead-based paint and dust. The state has made significant progress to reduce the number of children with elevated blood lead levels by more than 98% since 1996.
This work has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic – and even expanded under the Maryland Healthy Children Act to include environmental investigations stemming from diagnoses at or above the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s blood lead reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter. This allows the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) – which coordinates statewide efforts to reduce childhood lead poisoning and enforces Maryland’s lead law – to reach a new population. It also represents an important opportunity to intervene and to evaluate and address any noncompliance with state lead laws.
Still, 1,171 Maryland children were identified in 2020 as having blood lead levels at or above the CDC reference level. And the pandemic has significantly reduced the number of children tested for lead in Maryland.
“Lead poisoning is preventable, and it’s an environmental injustice,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Through universal testing, strong enforcement, and an increasing emphasis on responding to lower levels of lead poisoning, we can continue to reduce childhood lead poisoning in Maryland.”
Under the Maryland lead law, MDE: assures compliance with mandatory requirements for lead risk reduction in rental units built before 1978; maintains a statewide listing of registered and inspected units, and provides blood lead surveillance through a registry of test results of all children tested in Maryland. The lead program also: oversees case management follow-up by local health departments for children with elevated blood lead levels; certifies and enforces performance standards for inspectors and contractors conducting lead hazard reduction, and performs environmental investigations of lead-poisoned children. Maryland works in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and other local governments and non-profit organizations such as the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative to prevent childhood lead poisoning.
Testing and coordinated outreach efforts
Blood lead testing rates have increased overall under the state’s universal testing initiative of 2016 and the 2015 MDH initiative to endorse Point of Care testing for lead, which made it easier for healthcare providers to test children and provide results in the same office visit. While there was a 16.7 percent dip in testing rates due to COVID-19 over 2019, more than 110,158 children were tested for lead in 2020, and public officials are hopeful that testing trends will recover.
“The Maryland Department of Health is a proud partner in the collaborative effort to reduce and eliminate childhood lead poisoning in Maryland, and testing is a key part of that effort,” said MDH Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Jinlene Chan. “We know that lead poisoning can harm a child developmentally and affect them throughout their lifetime.”
The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) has two innovative programs, funded by Medicaid, to improve health outcomes and reduce exposures to lead for children who are lead-prisoned. The first providers home visiting services in nine local health departments with the vast majority of lead-poisoned children in the state. Community health workers conduct up to six home visits and work with families to identify and eliminate conditions that contribute to lead poisoning.
The second program, also funded through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, provides federal and state funds to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to remove lead hazards in homes throughout the state. Maryland families currently eligible or enrolled in Medicaid or Maryland’s Children’s Health Program with a child under age 19 exposed to lead may be eligible to have lead hazards removed at no cost.
Lead abatement improves health outcomes
Abatement and remediation for the Healthy Homes for Healthy Kids Program is done by the DHCD, which provides funds to support the work of lead abatement professionals like the ones who helped Fitzgerald and her family.
“We are proud to partner with MDE and MDH, as well as community partners, to make sure homes across Maryland are completely lead-free and safe for families,” said Deputy Secretary for DHCD Owen McEvoy. “These funds support the work of lead abatement professionals that make sure homes like Ms. Fitzgerald’s are safe for families. Even during the pandemic, DHCD and its contractors were going out to homes, evaluating, and taking the necessary action to remove lead from properties statewide.”
In the case of the Fitzgerald family’s Dundalk home, the Baltimore County Department of Health reached out to Magain and worked closely with them to connect them to various partners through the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Environmental Case Management program. Those connections helped to successfully mitigate the many environmental hazards in this Dundalk home.
Today, Magain Fitzgerald has a 3-month-old daughter, Si’ahna, and her son’s lead levels are back to normal. She is grateful that she got him tested when she did, and that she was connected to resources and programs to help her family.
“I feel so much more comfortable in our home, knowing my baby daughter and Landon can play and grow safely,” she said. “I want people to know how important it is to test for lead poisoning, and that there are programs which can help them too.”