Johnstown’s lead level higher than Flint’s, more than 18 percent of kids exposed

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Flint, Michigan’s, lead poisoning alarm has put the spotlight on an old problem that continues to plague many communities, including Johnstown.

In fact, a state Health Department report last year showed 18.26 percent of Johnstown kids who were tested had blood lead levels above the alarm threshold established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Flint, 2.5 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels before the city changed its water source to the Flint River in 2014. After the change, 6.6 percent of those tested had elevated levels, a report by Hurley Children’s Hospital and Michigan State University said.

Johnstown is not alone. Eighteen Pennsylvania cities have more children with elevated lead levels than Flint’s 6.6 percent, the Health Department’s 2014 Lead Surveillance Annual Report data show.

Topping the list is Allentown, where 23.11 percent of kids had blood lead levels above the CDC threshold of 5 micrograms per decileter.

In Altoona, 20.45 percent of children tested were above 5 micrograms.

But unlike Flint, most of Pennsylvania’s lead exposure is traced to old homes and poverty, the Health Department report says.

And while Flint’s exposure was increasing at alarming rates, lead levels have been steadily decreasing in Pennsylvania.

On Thursday Gov. Tom Wolf and the departments of Health and Environmental Protection responded to concerns about lead exposure.

“The primary source of childhood lead poisoning in Pennsylvania continues to be exposure to aging, deteriorating lead-based paint chips and dust, and not drinking water,” the joint press release said.

Lead was banned from paint in 1978, but many older buildings still contain layers of pre-1978 paint.

Homes built before 1950 are even more likely to have layers of lead paint under newer paint because fewer options were available.

The 2014 report cited census data showing Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation in pre-1950 housing and fourth for homes built before 1978.

“Protecting the state’s water and the health and safety of our citizens is DEP’s mission,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said in the press release.

“Ensuring the safety of our drinking water is essential. We have policies and programs in place already to protect Pennsylvanians.”

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