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Pandemic could cause more childhood lead poisoning, CDC says

Lead screenings for children plummeted last spring, and stay-at-home orders may have increased household exposure to the toxic metal (Source: “More Childhood Lead Poisoning Is a Side Effect of Covid Lockdowns,” New York Times, March 11).

Over the past half-century, public health officials have made enormous progress in protecting American children from lead poisoning and the irreversible neurological damage it can cause. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children with high levels of lead in their blood has plummeted.

But in 2020, when Covid-19 cases spiked, lockdowns and day care closures confined young children to their homes, where lead exposure can be particularly high. The growing national emergency also delayed lead-removal efforts and disrupted routine childhood lead screenings, leaving health officials unable to identify and treat many children living in lead-laden homes.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the early months of the pandemic, roughly 10,000 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected.

There is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can disrupt neurological and cognitive development, causing learning disabilities, behavioral problems and developmental delays.