New law, funding address lead poisoning in Connecticut
The Connecticut legislature addressed a dire need this past session by passing a bill meant to align the state’s childhood lead poisoning standards with federal standards.
The bill takes effect Jan. 1, 2023 and is expected to result in increased testing of children and intervention for those with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
The law lowers from 10 to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter the threshold at which licensed health care institutions and clinical laboratories must report lead poisoning cases to state and local health departments.
Most New London County towns have had decreasing reports of lead poisoning in the past three years, according to the state Department of Public Health. However, Norwich’s rates have increased by 4.3%, East Lyme’s increased 0.9%, and New London’s increased 0.75%.
Of the communities who reported blood lead levels, New London had the second-highest prevalence of lead poisoning in children under 6 years old, with 12.1% of children in New London having a hazardous level of lead in their blood in 2020.
The state will be seeking federal approval to add services to address the health impacts of high childhood blood lead levels in children eligible for Medicaid.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, ranking member of the Public Health committee, said the committee has been wrestling with this issue for years.
Somers said the main difficulty was that it represented, “a huge cost undertaking for the state and the towns in the long run.”
She said the legislature was able to get the bill through this year because of an influx in federal funding.
Connecticut’s 2023 budget contains $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for lead poisoning case management and home remediation.
“The health districts will be involved, and it’s going to require more personnel. When children are exposed to this at an early age, it can have permanent cognitive impairments,” Somers said. “A lot of it comes from lead paint. You can also find it in old pipes. We have no inventory of the water pipes that are in the roads. Some of them have been there for decades. The way that you test it is to test what’s in the water.”
Somers said the age of the state’s housing stock contributes to the lead problem. The state’s housing stock is older than the national average, with 73% of houses being built prior to 1980, compared to 57% nationally, according to the state Department of Public Health.
“A lot of the apartments that young children live in, maybe older apartments…It’s not only the pipes that are in the house, it’s the pipes coming to the house from the road. Tracing contamination can take a long time,” she said.
Water line replacement planned
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Connecticut was awarded $53 million for water infrastructure improvements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Part of the funding will be for lead line replacement projects in New London and Waterbury.
“Projects like replacing old water lines, flood mitigation, treating for PFAS, and investing in wastewater systems are costly, but they’re essential to everyday life and to our region’s economy, and they're critically important for protecting our environment,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a news release last week.
According to the Washington Post, PFAS are “used to make everyday products like nonstick cookware, cosmetics, fabrics and food packaging,” and these dangerous chemicals “pervade drinking water used by millions of Americans” and have been “linked to an array of illnesses.”