After decades of inertia, Connecticut is finally moving to help its thousands of lead-poisoned children and prevent thousands of other young children from being damaged by the widespread neurotoxin. The state will direct most of its efforts — and most of $30 million in federal money — toward its cities, whose children have borne the brunt of this epidemic. In announcing the allocation recently, Gov. Ned Lamont pointed to lead’s “catastrophic” effects on children’s health and development, noting that lead poisoning is “a problem that impacts most deeply minority and disadvantaged communities of our state.” Nearly half of the 1,024 children reported as lead poisoned in 2020 lived in New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Hartford, or other cities, according to state Department of Public Health numbers. The more enduring thrust of the state’s new actions, however, is the strengthening of its outdated lead laws, starting in 2023.
More than 1,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported poisoned by lead in 2020, according to a report released this week by the state Department of Public Health (DPH). Of the children tested that year, 649 were new cases. As has been the case for many years, nearly half of the 1,024 lead-poisoned children lived in the state’s cities. New Haven had the highest number of lead-poisoned children, with 171, followed by Bridgeport, 148; Waterbury, 81; Hartford, 71; and Meriden, 35. These five cities had 49% of all lead-poisoned children in Connecticut in 2020.
It wasn’t until Bridgeport lead inspector Charles Tate stepped outside the house on Wood Avenue that he saw, immediately, where 2-year-old Rocio Valladares was being poisoned. The paint around a window at the back of the house was deteriorating. Beneath the window was Rocio’s favorite play area, a sloping basement door that was the perfect ramp for an energetic toddler. Next to the basement door was a patch of dirt where she loved to scratch with sticks. White chips of paint were visible in the dirt.
A total of 1,665 Connecticut children under age 6 had lead poisoning in 2017, a drop of almost 17% from the year before and the largest one-year decrease in five years, according to a just-released report from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). But more children showed higher levels of the toxin in their blood than in 2016, the report says. In 2016, there were 105 children whose blood lead level was 20 micrograms per deciliter of blood or higher, at least four times the measure at which they’re considered poisoned. In 2017, the number had risen to 120 children. DPH epidemiologist Tsui-Min Hung said the improved overall numbers were at least partially due to the department’s more aggressive prevention activities, which 42 local health departments took advantage of, as well a social media campaign.
Nearly 1,400 new cases of lead-poisoned children under age 6 were reported in Connecticut in 2015, a slight drop from the year before, but more children showed higher levels of poisoning. A child whose blood test shows 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter or higher is considered poisoned. The 2015 numbers show 98 new cases of children with lead levels of 20 micrograms or higher, four times the threshold number and a 32 percent jump from 2014. “We cannot, with any certainty, explain why this is the case,” said Krista M. Veneziano, coordinator of the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s (DPH’s) Lead, Radon, and Healthy Homes Program, about the disproportionately larger numbers of higher toxicity. Exposure to lead can damage cognitive ability, including a measurable and irreversible loss in IQ points.
Nearly 1,500 children under the age of 6 tested positive for lead poisoning in 2014, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Public Health. Overall, the number of lead-poisoned children in Connecticut was about the same in 2014 as in 2013, with the total rising by 9 children. In 2014, 2,284 children under 6 were diagnosed as lead-poisoned, compared with 2,275 in 2013. The numbers are roughly equal because some children diagnosed with lead poisoning are cleared after being treated for it, they turn 6 and so are no longer followed by the state, or their families leave the state. But at a combined hearing of the legislature’s Committees on Children and Public Health on Monday, a state Department of Public Health official conceded that those numbers and other state lead statistics may be misleading because of the deficiencies of lead screening in Connecticut.