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HEALTH Reports Significant Drops in RI Childhood Lead Poisoning Rates

PROVIDENCE: Two hundred twenty-five fewer Rhode Island children had elevated lead levels* in 2013, with housing improvements in Providence accounting for about half of the gains in lead poisoning prevention.

"This is great news. Lead not only affects a child's health, but it also impacts a child's ability to learn," HEALTH Director Michael Fine, MD, said. "Children with low lead screening levels are more likely to have proficient educational performance scores when they reach third grade."

The number of Providence children with elevated blood lead levels in 2013 compared to 2012 declined by 128 cases, from 530 to 402. This decline coincides with the City's efforts to ensure that contractors who work on Providence homes have the appropriate lead license, and that landlords obtain certificates of conformance to show their homes are safe for children. "In the City of Providence, there are few as urgent and preventable health issues for our children than lead poisoning," Mayor Angel Taveras said. "My administration is committed to doing all that it can to help eradicate lead poisoning and promote healthy development for all Providence children." According to the City of Providence's Healthy Communities Office, in 2012, Providence's Department of Inspection and Standards began requiring all applicants for city building permits on homes built before 1978 to provide proof that contractors working on the homes have Lead Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) licenses. In addition, Providence's Housing Court created a lead court docket to prosecute property owners who fail to obtain lead-safe certificates for rental units. As of January 2014, the City Solicitor's Office has prosecuted 180 cases. Providence is the first municipality in Rhode Island to implement these changes.

Providence Water Supply works in partnership with HEALTH on lead poisoning prevention by reducing lead exposures from drinking water. Providence Water Supply routinely monitors the lead content of water from selected drinking water taps and found the number of taps that exceed the lead action level declined from 26 in 2012 to 23 in 2013.

Together with Providence, the cities of Woonsocket, Warwick and Tiverton account for more than 80 percent of the decline in lead cases in Rhode Island. In 2013, the number of cases of elevated lead levels declined by 31 in Woonsocket, 15 in Warwick and 8 in Tiverton. Improvements were also seen in Newport, East Providence and Burrillville where the number of cases declined by 7, 7 and 5 cases, respectively.

The relatively small number of children screened in most Rhode Island cities and towns can cause lead poisoning rates to vary substantially from year to year. Significant improvements over a two-year period occurred in Cranston and North Providence, with declines of 23 and 12 cases, respectively.

"Anytime we learn that children's lead exposure is being reduced is very good news. Kids' developing bodies are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead exposure, which can include lifelong impacts such as developmental impairment, learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity and behavioral problems," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England office.

In contrast, about one-third of the cities and towns saw little or no improvements in lead poisoning rates, including Pawtucket, Central Falls and Warren, which account for about 20 percent of all cases of elevated blood lead levels in Rhode Island. A natural experiment is about to occur as the City of Central Falls has voiced a commitment to implementing the measures similar to Providence in an effort to reduce some of the highest lead poisoning rates in the State.

*less than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood

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