Washington health officials will review the state’s screening for and response to potential lead poisoning in water supplies and other sources, following a directive issued Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Responding to new concerns about lead in local drinking-water sources, Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday directed Washington state health officials to help step up screening for and response to potential problems.
Health-department officials, in conjunction with other agencies, will review lead policies and practices for schools, rental properties and child-care providers. They’ll prioritize the removal of lead from public water systems and work to improve the efficiency of blood-lead level testing, particularly for children at highest risk of harm.
“It’s the right thing for our kids and our families,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman told reporters.
Inslee’s move followed recent detection of lead from taps in Tacoma-area homes and high levels of lead found in drinking water at more than a dozen Tacoma schools in tests conducted last year. And it follows news of lead poisoning among children in Flint, Mich., after city officials opted to diverted water from the Flint River to the local drinking supply.
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Despite the recent worries, health officials say there’s little risk from lead poisoning in Washington state. Officials said Seattle water is fine. Of an estimated 20,000 tests of children younger than age 6 last year, only 365, or less than 2 percent, detected blood-lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the federal level of concern.
“Washington state has some of the lowest blood lead levels of children in any state,” Wiesman said.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead, which can cause irreversible mental and physical problems. Nationwide, about a half-million children ages 1 to 5 have elevated blood-lead levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only about 3 percent of all children in Washington state are tested for lead poisoning. Health officials would like to boost that rate to as high as 25 percent, particularly among children at high risk for lead exposure.
The governor’s directive tasks the state with exploring the viability of a rental inspection and registry program, to track rental homes built before 1978 for lead problems. It also calls for consideration of a program that could require child-care providers in older homes to be evaluated for sources of lead exposure.
No cost estimates for the proposals were available, Weisman said. Inslee directed health officials to come up policy recommendations and a plan to pay for them by October.