Two physicians who serve on the Niagara County Board of Health said at last week's meeting that blood tests for lead exposure should be required for all children entering school, just as immunizations are.
Dr. Jerome Ulatowski II of Lewiston and Dr. Thomas Hughes of Lockport said the board should pass a request to the state to institute that mandate. The board's legislative committee will consider the matter and bring a report to the board's April 28 meeting.
"It's a good idea. Let's try it and see what happens," Hughes said. "We should very strongly voice to the state that we want this to happen."
Denny Rey, a sanitarian in the county Health Department's Environmental Health Division, told the board that 60 percent to 65 percent of local children are tested for lead, even when their doctors actually prescribe the blood test.
Although the classic scenario for lead poisoning is a child eating old paint chips containing lead, Rey said, "More than 80 percent of lead poisoning is caused by dust."
He said there are no state standards for safe levels of lead dust, so he urged the board to adopt the federal dust standards into the county's sanitary code. That also might happen at the April meeting.
But the doctors were most concerned about the blood test.
"I'm tired of hearing that 60 percent of my population isn't taking part," Ulatowski said. "One hundred percent of the people on WIC [the Women's, Infants and Children's program] pick up their checks. Can't we tie that to lead [testing]?"
"Good luck. Ask the feds. They won't let you do that," Rey replied.
Sanitarian Fabian Rosati said the Health Department recently stopped using a device that detected lead paint with cobalt or cadmium radiation.
Ulatowski said, "We are being 100 percent negligent, only testing when we get an inkling it's there. You can't do 100 percent of your job because I can only get 60 percent of the information."
The county Health Department itself received an updated laboratory registration from Albany, allowing it to conduct its own on-site blood tests for lead. The portable machines produce a test result in three minutes, said Wanda Smiley, director of patient services.
However, Smiley had her doubts about the effectiveness of testing for lead just before a child enters school. She said that is too late.