PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When you think of young children, you probably picture toddlers, unsteady on their feet, putting their toys in their mouths and exploring their world. Under most circumstances, children can do that safely.

But Allegheny County health officials are worried that some young children are accidentally being exposed to lead that’s in their homes and their schools.

On Wednesday, the Allegheny County Board of Health voted unanimously to advance legislation that would set up requirements for lead testing of young children.

Lead exposure is cumulative, and can have lasting effects. Officials say that’s why testing young children is so important.

Before today’s vote, one local pediatrician said, “There is no safe level of lead in the body. Even at very low levels… children can exhibit a diminished intellectual ability and higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders such as inattention, aggression and hyperactivity.”

Health experts believe that here in Pittsburgh, the greatest amount of lead exposure comes from old lead based products which were commonly used when older homes were built. That includes things like lead-based paint and solder. Officials say in Allegheny County, 60 percent of the homes were built before 1950.

Even homes which were recently renovated pose a risk, because renovations can send lead dust into the air, making it possible for residents to breathe them in.

Recently, tests have also shown elevated levels of lead in the water in the city. The Environmental Protection Agency recently reported that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is the second largest water system in the country with elevated lead levels.

Those levels have been linked to aging lead service lines leading into homes. The long-term fix would be to replace those lines. But under current law, residents would have to front the cost of replacing the lines leading into their home. It can be a costly project.

As a short-term fix, city residents are eligible for free lead testing kits and water filters, which are expected to be distributed starting next week.

In the meantime, health officials are advancing the legislation which would require young children to be tested for lead exposure. The recommendations follow the current guidelines set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proposal calls for children between 9-12 months of age to get tested. Those children would be re-tested at two years of age. There would also be “catch up” testing for children who are ready start school, but have never been tested.

Testing exemptions would also be offered for medical, religious and moral reasons. There would not be any enforcement or punishment for families that do not comply. “That is why the exemptions are there,” says Jenna Magill, a local parent. “That is a decision that your parent and your medical provider should make together.”

If Allegheny County’s legislation gets final approval, it would go into effect next year.

State lawmakers are also considering a bill that would require lead testing for children throughout Pennsylvania.

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