Lancaster city officials have agreed to move forward with a resolution asking the Pennsylvania Legislature to implement a statewide lead testing and abatement program. City Council members plan to introduce the resolution at its Dec. 13 meeting.
Remember the Flint, Michigan, water crisis?
Elevated lead levels were found in the water in early 2014, the same year Flint made the switch from Detroit water to water from the Flint River. On Jan. 5, after nearly two years of downplaying the disaster, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency. President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Flint 11 days later.
But that wasn’t before nearly 9,000 children drank the contaminated water.
In Flint, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found 4.9 percent of children under 6 years old have elevated blood levels. In Lancaster, according to research published in the Journal of Pediatrics this summer, the rate is about 11 percent.
Yes, you read that correctly.
This begs the question: Where’s the urgency here — or, more specifically, in Harrisburg?
For those still scratching their heads at why this is so problematic, consider this:
— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that any level of lead in the blood is unsafe and can affect nearly every system in the body.
— Lead is particularly harmful to children and enhances the risk for brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, behavior problems, and hearing and speech issues.
— Lead, once distributed to the brain and other vital organs, is stored in the teeth and bones.
— Long-term exposure can result in chronic lead poisoning; symptoms range from headaches to anemia to seizures.
Lancaster’s lead problem, unlike Flint’s, mainly stems from the peeling paint in the county’s older houses — those built before 1978, when lead paint was banned — especially in the city and in Columbia.
The good news is that lead as a public health problem is preventable and, according to Dr. Jeffrey Martin of the Lancaster County Lead Coalition, “very solvable.”
But the county needs help.
In order to assuage the area’s lead problem, the state Legislature must step up to the plate and fork over much-needed funding for lead testing and abatement.
Lancaster city received a $1.33 million federal grant for lead abatement this summer, but that only suffices for about 100 homes.
The cost of testing and abatement is too high to impose a mandate on landlords, as Mayor Rick Gray noted at Monday’s City Council meeting. For low-income homeowners, such an edict would be ruinous.
During his State of the State address in January, Gov. Snyder sent a message to the people of Flint: “I’m sorry, and I will fix it. Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.”
Please, Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly, do not fail us now.