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By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – A celebration was held on March 28 to mark the completion of lead remediation of 615 homes in low-income communities, a milestone in the battle against preventable childhood lead poisoning, according to R.I. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
The effort, a partnership between the Children’s Health Forum, the Healthy Kids Collaborative, CLEARCorps USA, and the attorney general’s office, was able to complete the task in three years, on budget and on time. Funding for the lead remediation was made possible through a $6.7 million grant by the Children’s Health Forum. The grant was part of nearly $10 million in funding that has gone to Rhode Island entities under the Healthy Kids Collaborative since 2008 for lead safety education, outreach, training, remediation and compliance. The funds were a result of an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit brought by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse when he served as R.I. Attorney General.
However, the continuing effort to combat elevated levels of lead in children in Rhode Island is jeopardy as a result of budget cuts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would eliminated local inspection and medical case management for leader poisoned children as of Sept. 1, according to Laura Brion, community organizer with Childhood Lead Action Project.
“Lead poisoning is far from over, and the federal funding cuts are potentially devastating,” Brion said. While it is important to celebrate victories along the way, she continued, it is important to place it in context. “There are new recommendations to lower the threshold of lead poisoning, and the way that we define lead poisoning updated,” she said. Under the new proposed thresholds, the number of children in Rhode Island with dangerous levels of lead would jump from about 200 a year to more than 1,000, according to Brion.
Lead poisoning is not the only factor that can affect a child’s performance in school, she continued, but it’s a very important factor. “Lead poisoning can lead to all kinds of learning disabilities, including difficulties with sitting still and concentrating, and problems with decision-making,” Brion said.