New Year Brings Mandatory Lead Testing For Children In Allegheny County

Dec 28, 2017

Allegheny County begins mandatory blood testing for lead in small children Jan. 1. 

Under the new law, children will be tested once between the ages of 9 and 12 months and again at two years of age.

Young children could be tested in two ways depending on the physician’s recommendation, according to Allegheny County Health Director Karen Hacker. They could receive a capillary test, which involves a finger stick with the blood drawn into a tiny tube. The second test is a venous sample where blood is drawn from a child’s arm, similar to how blood is drawn in an adult.

However, each test yields slightly different results. 

“The capillary test is very good at being able to rule out children who do not have any problems with lead exposure, but it’s not good at ruling out children who do," Hacker said. "We are requiring that a child who has an elevated capillary test get a follow up venous test. We consider that to be a confirmed test.” 

A baby with a blood lead level above 10 micrograms per deciliter could require additional testing and a home inspection to find the source of the exposure.

“That ranges from paint to dust to water to soil, even to alternative sources like keys or cosmetics and things you wouldn’t always expect,” Hacker said.

For children whose levels are in the range of 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter, the health department will contact their families to discuss how to identify possible sources of lead. They could also be eligible for home investigations. The 2018 Allegheny County budget allows for the hiring of two additional lead inspectors.

Additionally, money from the federal Housing and Urban Redevelopment Authority can help families pay for lead remediation

“You do have to meet some income requirements and you have to have a child or pregnant woman in the home, but you don’t have to have a child that’s already been exposed," Hacker said. 

About 50 percent of children in Allegheny County have been tested for lead exposure in the past year, Hacker said, adding that the number is expected to continue rising. 

“Our hope would be to get it up much higher than that and we will be following that in the coming year," Hacker said. 

Beginning in September 2018, schools will be asked to report whether a child has had a lead test in a child’s immunization record. There is no penalty if a practitioner fails to test and families can opt out for religious or moral reasons. 

The County will provide free testing at some of its sites for people who don’t have Medicaid or private health insurance. More information is available at the Allegheny County Health Department website.