Children Must Be Screened for Lead Poisoning, Judge Rules
California's Department of Health Services must issue regulations within the next 30 days that require care providers to determine if children are at risk for lead poisoning, according to a ruling handed down last week by Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay. In a suit filed in June, public interest lawyers, along with four Bay area residents, argued that California was "ignoring" the 1991 Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act that requires the state to mandate health care workers screen children for lead poisoning. State policy also requires that children on welfare or Medi-Cal be screened for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2. Plaintiffs' lawyers said that department officials have not yet issued regulations on the matter. Furthermore, plaintiffs, including the Healthy Children Organizing Project, the National Council of La Raza and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, said that 130,000 California children have elevated blood lead levels, but "most go untreated due to a lack of required screening." Health department officials countered that regulations had been drafted but not implemented because the department "has been tied up in litigation over who will pay for screening."
The judge's decision means doctors "will have to ask several questions to determine a child's risk for elevated lead levels in the blood." Such questions might include whether a child lives in an older home or an area with toxic waste or has parents whose job could expose them to lead. Maria Andrade, a Public Advocates Inc. attorney, said, "This is a great victory for tens of thousands of kids in the state. It's a powerful ruling" (Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/1).