ANNAPOLIS, MD (January 12, 2001) -- The message to legislators at today’s Rally for a Lead Safe Maryland was quite clear. Awareness, education, and support at all levels must continue if Maryland’s youngest citizens are to truly become lead free.
Children, youth advocates, healthcare professionals, members of community-based organizations and state cabinet secretaries, attended the Rally for a Lead Safe Maryland, to sustain last year’s momentum generated by Governor Parris N. Glendening and state legislators’ investment of $50 million into aggressive lead poisoning prevention initiatives across the state.
"This past year we’ve seen a renewed commitment by the state and Baltimore City to prevent lead poisoning," said Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Secretary Jane T. Nishida, whose agency administers Maryland’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. "One of the most important advances has been improved communication and cooperation between state agencies and Baltimore City to ensure that children are being tested for lead. Even more importantly, the Department of the Environment has been working toward a goal of having these tests become unnecessary someday, by preventing lead poisoning in the first place."
Nationally, almost one million pre-school age children have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood which may result in poor school performance, inability to read, aggressive behavior, hearing loss or even mental retardation. In 1998, approximately 5,840 Maryland children were reported to have exposure levels high enough to inflict irreversible harm.
"Children should not have to be environmental indicators of lead in their community, but unfortunately, for too long this has been the case," said Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Secretary Georges C. Benjamin, M.D., the rally’s host. "Under an enhanced public health program, DHMH, MDE, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and community advocates have joined together to reduce this tragic problem. We are working to make sure there is improvement in early detection and treatment of childhood lead poisoning by increasing blood lead testing and educational outreach for both families and health care providers."
The recently completed Lead Poisoning Prevention Commission report was presented to the public for the first time at the rally. Among the commission’s recommendations are:
Eliminating chipping, peeling and flaking paint prior to a dust test being performed;
Reducing barriers to blood lead testing;
Increasing enforcement; and
Improving rental registration requirements.
The commission’s complete report can be found on MDE’s homepage at: www.mde.state.md.us
"The battle against lead poisoning is one of our highest priorities," said DHCD Secretary Ray Skinner. "I am grateful for the strong cooperation underway among the three state agencies and Baltimore City officials to eliminate this serious problem."
"We have made great strides in Baltimore's efforts to end lead poisoning in the past year. Much of our success with the LeadStat initiative is due to the coordinated efforts between city and state agencies, along with great
organizations like the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. If we continue to work together, lead poisoning will soon become an affliction of the past," said Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley.
State efforts to reduce lead hazards are not limited to the City of Baltimore. "We are working throughout Maryland to make all homes lead safe," Secretary Skinner added.
Expanding on that point, The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, a co-sponsor of the event, launched its "Safe at Home" campaign, which is targeted at communities in Prince George’s County as well as Baltimore.
"Lead hazards pose harm to children throughout this state, in all communities where there is older housing," said the coalition’s executive director Ruth Ann Norton. "We cannot assume that all lead poisoned children live in Baltimore City. This is a disease that effects all races, all economic classes, all geographic areas.
"The coalition is pleased to see the progress the state, city and counties are making, but we all agree the job is not done," Norton added. "We have all come together with the realization that preventing lead poisoning will better ensure a child's capacity to learn and thrive as a healthy and productive adult. It is clear that the task at hand is large. But by moving forward together, we can more quickly reach our goal of ending childhood lead poisoning by the year 2010."
Other highlights of the day included sessions on the state of lead poisoning in Maryland, proposed legislation and ending childhood lead poisoning through community action.
Additionally, students of Rayner Browne Elementary School in Baltimore kicked off the event with the "We Want To Be Lead Free!" cheer.
Rally attendees ended the day by pledging to "hold decision makers and community leaders accountable to keep lead safety a priority in Maryland" and "join with others to ensure that all Maryland children grow up in a lead safe environment, so that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential!"