Connecticut Is Grappling With Its Own Lead Problem, and It's Not the Water | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut Is Grappling With Its Own Lead Problem, and It's Not the Water

May 16, 2016

Exposure to lead and lead poisoning is a bigger problem in Connecticut than previously thought, and could be a factor in the achievement gap between white and minority kids in the state. 

That's according to a recent story from the Connecticut Health Investigative Team.

According to the Department of Public Health, nearly 60,000 children under the age of six in Connecticut were exposed to lead in 2013, 2,275 children were considered lead poisoned.

In Connecticut, the main culprit is lead paint. Lead-based paint was banned by the government in 1978, but nearly 75 percent of Connecticut's housing was built before 1980, and efforts to remediate lead paint are spotty at best.

"Between paint chips that are coming off walls and ceilings -- and in some ways even worse is the dust -- it's very, very hard to get rid of; it's very easy to ingest this into their system," said reporter Jenifer Frank, who wrote the C-HIT story on lead exposure in Connecticut.

While ingesting lead chips, drinking lead contaminated water, or breathing in lead dust is unhealthy at any age, children are the most vulnerable to lead exposure.

Children exposed to lead, even a small amount, are susceptible to a host of physical ailments and developmental delays.

"Even at extremely low levels of lead exposure, there can be a drop in six, or seven, or eight IQ points," said Frank. And damage to the brain from lead exposure is irreversible.

Connecticut has one of the most thorough lead screening programs in the country.

Pediatricians are required to screen for lead exposure twice before the age of three. But Frank wrote that according to the DPH, close to 30 percent (more than 22,000) children did not have a blood lead test in 2013.

Part of the problem, Frank discovered, is that Connecticut's law is more stringent than federal law, and pediatricians may not take the state law seriously. Some experts believe pediatricians may not be screening as often as they should because they perceive lead poisoning to be an inner city. That might be partly true.

The DPH said that for decades, Connecticut's three largest cities reported the highest number of children with lead exposure.

"In our cities, we have this very large cluster of older apartment buildings where landlords may be unwilling to fix the lead paint, or are unaware there's a problem," Frank said.

Two recent studies commissioned by the state Department of Education focused on 18,000 fourth-graders and found a disparity not only in blood lead levels between black and white students, but also the outcome of their Connecticut Mastery Test scores.

The studies concluded that "exposure to lead may account for part of the achievement gap among Connecticut schoolchildren."