The Connecticut House voted 146-0 on Tuesday to pass a bill that will increase testing for lead exposure in children, lower the threshold requiring municipalities to investigate and remediate for lead, and provide $30 million to cover the estimated cost of compliance.
The bill requires health centers to report lead poisoning when a child’s blood levels are greater than 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, in conformance with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. It also requires the state to begin an epidemiological investigation and conduct remediation when a child’s blood level is greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter.
“We have a lot of old housing infrastructure. We have a lot of old lead water pipes and the like which both need to be remediated and replaced, and we need to identify where we have problems,” State Rep. Johnathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said in a press conference before the vote.
Steinberg said that while the bigger water companies have replaced lead pipes over time, this hasn’t necessarily been the case for smaller water systems, and that there are still lead-lined pipes connecting some homes.
According to a report from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, 1,024 children under the age of six in Connecticut had blood lead levels of more than 5 micrograms per deciliter in 2020. The most common source of exposure was lead paint in the home.
Black, hispanic and asian children were at least twice as likely to test positive for lead poisoning as white children.
State Rep. William Petit, R-Plainsville, ranking member on Public Health, said the committee had been talking about addressing lead poisoning since 2017, but had been stymied because of a lack of funding. Petit said that 14,000 children were diagnosed with lead poisoning between 2012 and 2020.
“We need to do more than we’ve done. We’ve really let people down,” said Petit.
The state is allocating $30 million in federal coronavirus funds toward local health departments for costs associated with inspections and remediation. Funding for on-site inspections and remediation will last until December 31, 2024.
Steinberg, who is the chair of the committee, said he expected the funds to be sufficient for the next two years. The legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated the cost to municipalities at up to $25.5 million for the next two years.
Local health departments, however, offered mixed responses in testimony regarding the legislation. Maritza Bond, director of health in New Haven, and Aisling McGuckin, director of health in Waterbury, expressed support for the bill. But Charles Brown Jr, district director of health for the Central Connecticut Health District, which serves the towns of Berlin, Newington, Rocky Hill, and Wethersfield, testified in writing that the new regulations would be costly for homeowners, “unnecessary in terms of risk,” and “financially impossible for local departments to undertake.”
Another portion of the legislation calls for primary care physicians to test children between three and six years old annually for lead poisoning if they are on HUSKY or live in an area with a large proportion of housing built before 1960 or a large proportion of children have blood lead levels of more than 5 micrograms per deciliter.
According to the CDC, exposure to lead damages brain and nervous system development and can result in lower IQ levels, attention deficit and poor academic performance.
Experts from several universities, including the Yale School of Public Health, the University of Albany, Princeton’s University’s Center for Health and Well-Being and the Yale Law School also testified in support of the bill.
Steinberg said that in addition to the $30 million, the state could also be eligible for additional Medicaid funds and possibly money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also said the state could use federal infrastructure funds to support the program.
The bill also directs the Commissioner of Public Health to create a working group to study the sources and the causes of lead contamination, the practices of screening for lead and data reporting.
“This bill both leverages ARPA funds as well as other funds to do something we have been talking about, really, for many years – get the lead out in the state of Connecticut,” said Steinberg.