Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention

In Philadelphia, an old city with many aging buildings, childhood lead poisoning has long been a serious problem. Among all U.S. counties, Philadelphia County has the fourth highest number of housing units with a high risk of lead hazards. Over 90 percent of the city’s housing stock was built before lead paint was banned for residential use in 1978. Just a decade ago, more than 6,000 children in Philadelphia were poisoned every year and suffered permanent cognitive and physical injuries from a completely preventable condition. The remedy is removing lead hazards from children’s houses so they won’t get poisoned. In Philadelphia, as in most parts of the country, children have been used as “canaries in the mines” to detect for the presence of lead in homes. This is unacceptable practice. Houses not children need to be tested for lead, and when lead is found, removed from children’s homes.

PCCY has been working for almost two decades to prevent children from being poisoned by lead. In 2002, PCCY and other advocates engaged in a multi-faceted campaign involving increased public awareness, advocacy, political commitment, new local and federal resources and collaboration among public agencies. The campaign and the resulting initiatives stimulated significant change in the city that has reduced the number of homes with lead hazards and has ultimately decreased the number of children poisoned. For example:

  • In 2007, 2,246 children were found to have elevated lead levels – the lowest number of affected children identified in Philadelphia history and representing a 50 percent reduction since 2001.
  • In fiscal year 2008, 564 properties were made lead-safe, more than four times the number cleared in 2001.
  • Approximately 3,600 properties were made lead-safe between 2001 and 2008; some of these homes benefitted from primary prevention and had hazards remediated prior to any report of violation, thus avoiding a poisoned child.

This is outstanding progress, but much more work is still left to be done.

Philadelphia Lead Poisoning Reports

PCCY has chronicled the status of childhood lead poisoning in Philadelphia and the city’s progress towards prevention in a series of comprehensive reports.

Getting the Lead Out: The Philadelphia Story, 2006
Part One
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This report chronicles the progress the city made since we published our first report in 2002 including: the campaign for change that PCCY and other advocates undertook; the creation of the Lead Abatement Strike Team (LAST), a coalition of city departments working together for the first time; the creation of Lead Court, a new legal avenue to enforce lead violation orders; increased federally funding and significant expansion of primary prevention programs – namely Lead Safe Babies.

Keeping the Lead Out: The Philadelphia Story, 2007
Part Two
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This report focuses on the city’s primary lead poisoning prevention programs and activities highlighting the expansion of the successful Lead Safe Babies program that targets pregnant women and families with newborns to test their properties for lead hazards and remove them before the baby is exposed.

The Lead Court and Healthier Children: The Philadelphia Story, 2008
Part Three
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This report provides details about the creation of Lead Court, how it functions, its dramatic impact on increasing the number of properties made lead-safe in the city and, consequently, on decreasing the number of children poisoned. The report also describes some of the challenges accompanying the Courts progress; in particular, the continuing lack of adequate funding to ensure that all properties are remediated.

Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition

For almost two decades, PCCY has facilitated the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition. The coalition is comprised of a cross-section of stakeholders including health care providers, legal advocates, the city’s lead program and housing representatives. The coalition has been a driving force in the city’s progress towards decreasing the number of lead poisoned children through the implementation of a number of strategies to increase public awareness and public advocacy and stimulate more city, state and federal investments in the issue.

Information and Resources for Testing and Remediating Homes and Testing Children

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP) of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health assists parents and families in numerous ways to prevent, detect and treat lead poisoning.

Services include:

  • Testing properties for lead
  • Financial assistance for low-income property owners to remove lead hazards to make homes lead safe (HUD grants are available).
  • Monitoring children with elevated blood lead levels
  • Testing children for lead
  • Coordinating Lead Safe Babies, the city’s major primary prevention program targeted at pregnant women and families with newborns that tests their homes for lead hazards and attempts to remove them before the baby is exposed.

For all of these services, please contact the CLPPP at 215-685-2788.

For more information and to get involved, please contact
Colleen McCauley at colleenmccauley@pccy.org.