PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Should children in Allegheny County have their lead levels tested? The county Board of Health met to discuss the issue Wednesday.

“Universal screening will identify toddlers with lead poisoning who are being overlooked. Then the places where they live and play can be assessed to identify the source of the lead poisoning,” said one testifier before the Board.

The Board reviewed maps of Allegheny County showing the percentage of children with unacceptably high lead levels is greater than in Flint, Mich., where lead in the water supply has been a recent problem.

The measure would call for children between the ages of 9 and 12 months to have their blood tested. They would be tested again at age 2.

High lead levels can lead to headaches, stomach pain, behavioral problems, low red blood cell counts and abnormal brain development.

Last year, the water in some local homes tested higher than 15 parts per billion, the environmental protection agency’s level for action.

Lead was banned from pipes in 1986, and from paint in 1978. In homes older than that, lead can be a problem.

“Our housing stock is so old in our county that over 80 percent were built before lead was eliminated from paint,” says Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “While there may be issues of lead in other sources, such as soil, water, and jewelry, and things like that, the fact of the matter is paint is a major contributer here in this county.”

The issue raises some questions: How will testing be covered? What would be the role of schools, pediatricians, WIC and immunization clinics? How will testing be standardized and monitored? Will parents be considered negligent if they refuse testing? And if high lead levels are found, how is the remediation of the root cause going to be handled and paid for?

The Board of Health has approved to accept public comment on this issue.

The Board of Health would then have to approve the measure before it goes to County Council for a vote. If County Council approves the measure, the mandatory lead testing would take effect for children born as of Jan. 1 of next year.

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Dr. Maria Simbra