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Kids Not Getting Tested For Lead

State Report Says Less Than A Third Of Those On Medicaid Are Tested

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lead blood test
Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Federal policy requires all children receiving Medicaid to be tested for lead poisoning at ages one and two. In Wisconsin, less than one-third got checked last year. And the percentage tested is even lower for all children in the state.

A new report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows 32 percent of children enrolled in Medicaid received the required testing in 2016. Twenty percent of kids of all income levels were checked for lead.

“Its really up to the individual clinics and healthcare systems to put something in place that makes sure (blood lead testing) is done and I would think today with the electronic medical records it would be easier to do that than 10 years ago,” said Beth Neary. She’s a pediatrician and member of the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, a group of health professionals who want to increase awareness about the link between the environment and health.

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The report, prepared by the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Prevention Program run by DHS, says lead-based paint is a particular problem in Wisconsin because of the state’s high prevalence of older homes. It’s recommended all children in Racine and Milwaukee be tested three times before the age of three. The risk in other areas of the state is assessed through criteria including whether other family members have lead poisoning, and income level.

There is no safe level of lead in the human body and even low levels can cause permanent brain damage, according to the report. But it’s not easy to detect on a day-to-day basis, people and children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick.

“Lead poisoning is silent and that’s why screening is still important. So if they show up with a level of 5 (micrograms per decilitre) where is this coming from? And if you don’t follow up at age 2 you might miss the fact that (the level of lead in blood) might go up to 25,” said Neary.

Lead testing for all children in Wisconsin peaked in 2010 and has been declining ever since. Known cases of lead poisoning have been declining in Wisconsin and across the nation, according to the report.

“We are moving closer to our goal of no child ever being exposed to the damage lead can do to their bodies and minds, thanks in part to efforts made by Gov. Scott Walker, our local and tribal health departments, and our other partners,” said State Health Officer Karen McKeown in a statement.


The proportion of children testing positive for blood lead. Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Division of Medicaid Services.

Five percent of children in the state had elevated levels of lead last year. That’s above the national average.

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