By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – Faced with the loss of $594,000 in federal funds because of budget cuts, the Childhood Lead Action Project asked state government to step in and provide emergency funding to keep the health program operational.
At the news conference held May 23 in the Statehouse Rotunda, Roberta Hazen Aaronson, director of CLAP, said that the need to continue her agency’s work was made even more critical by the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lower the threshold for lead poisoning to 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood from the current 10 micrograms level. As a result, instead of 200 newly diagnosed cases in Rhode Island in 2011, there are now 1,279 cases.
“Gutting childhood lead poisoning prevention programs will leave more children behind and send us on a race to the bottom, not to the top,” Aaronson said.
The incidence of lead levels in children’s blood has been linked to harmful and persistence effects on a child’s ability to learn and to read, according to Dr. Peter Simon of the R.I. Department of Health.
Speaking at the event were Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, John Kelly, president and CEO of Meeting Street School, Jim Vincent, president of the Providence chapter of the NAACP, Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston, and Derek Brown, a parent, whose son, DJ, was discovered to have lead levels at four times the 10 micrograms level. Brown praised CLAP for its efforts to help in bringing his son’s levels down.
Handy has introduced legislation, 2012 H-8148, to call on the federal government to restore funding for the lead prevention programs. A hearing is scheduled for May 30 at 2 p.m. before the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
In the meantime, Aaronson called upon Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and the General Assembly to redirect money – “less than 1 percent from the recently announced $102 million surplus would do the trick” – to deal with the emergency.