Instances of lead poisoning in kids rose during the pandemic

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CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — The number of children in Rhode Island who tested positive for lead poisoning for the first time rose last year, which is the first time it’s increased, according to state Health Department data.

The 22% increase in children testing positive for lead poisoning for the first time comes even as fewer children were tested last year, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

Four cities accounted for 69% of the recorded elevated lead levels — Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Woonsocket. Those cities are also where 74% of children of color in the state live.

Central Falls had the highest portion of children with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which is the reference level set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The city has an older housing stock, which matters because many homes predate the 1978 ban on lead in house paint. No level of lead in the blood is safe and lead poisoning in children can contribute to lifelong cognitive problems that can manifest in lowered attention levels and academic achievement.

The rise in incidents coincides with the pandemic when the vast majority of children stayed home, Michelle Almeida, the CDC lead program manager and evaluator for the state Health Department, told the newspaper.

One mother in Central Falls has three children who have been poisoned by lead, and has twice had inspectors come to identify the source of the lead at their home and remediate it.

A pediatrician in Central Falls, Dr. Beata F. Nelken, told the newspaper the statistics underestimate the incidents of lead poisoning in children in the community. She urged the city and state to take urgent action to remove lead hazards from homes.

“Why are we using these kids as the canaries in the coal mine?” Nelken said. “It’s the wrong approach. We know we have lead in the paint, the pipes, the food, the toys, and our dust.”

Central Falls has hired a bilingual housing inspector and plans to distribute information about how to make homes lead-safe in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The city also has brought the owners of 200 properties that do not have a lead-safe certificate to court to connect them with the the state’s lead-safe program.

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island