CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio health agencies have struggled to investigate childhood lead poisoning cases and thousands of referrals were left without investigation in recent years, according to a newspaper review of data on the performance of more than a dozen of the state’s health districts.
The data show that 38 percent of the 6,688 lead poisoning referrals statewide were investigated from 2011 to 2015. State investigators were able to reach families and complete investigations for about half of the referrals it was responsible for since 2011, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported (http://bit.ly/2jxtZAu).
Under Ohio law, the state Department of Health is responsible for investigating lead poisoning cases but can delegate that authority to a qualified local health agency.
State health officials said the department is working to “strengthen the accountability” of local programs charged with responding to lead poisoning cases. Officials pointed out that the percentage of completed investigations is on the rise, from about 30 percent in 2011 and 2012 to more than 50 percent in 2015.
The cases arise after children under the age of 6 get blood tests that show elevated levels of lead.
Lead poisoning can damage nearly every organ, particularly the kidneys, red blood cells and central nervous system. It can also lead to learning disabilities, lower IQs and other health problems in children.
Officials and child health advocates said the state has a fragmented system without adequate or stable funding to address the size of the problem, which is largely concentrated in urban areas.
Patricia Barnes, coordinator of the Ohio Healthy Homes Network, said the entire system needs to be examined.
“We’ve been trying to protect kids from lead poisoning going back to the early 1990s,” Barnes said. “And there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com