California Requires Millions of Children To Be Tested for Lead Exposure

Wednesday, September 30, 2020
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed into law a measure to protect millions of children from the developmental and health impacts of toxic lead exposure. Assembly Bill 2276 ensures that the state screen and test the children most at risk of lead poisoning.
 
“We thank Gov. Newsom for ensuring that all toddlers on Medi-Cal are tested for lead,” said Susan Little, EWG's senior advocate for California government affairs. “The governor has demonstrated that safeguarding our children’s health is a priority.”
 
This legislation was jointly authored by Assemblymembers Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield).
A report by the state auditor found more than 1.4 million children covered by Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid healthcare program, did not receive proper lead tests and that the state Department of Public Health was neglecting the prevention of lead poisoning. AB 2276 holds Medi-Cal managed care plans accountable for testing children in their care. Plans and doctors will have to pay careful attention to children’s lead-testing outcomes, and the state will clearly be able to sanction plans that fail to comply with the testing requirements.
 
State law already requires that children enrolled in Medi-Cal receive tests for elevated lead levels between the ages of one and two years old.
 
“Lead is a major threat to children’s health,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president for science investigations at EWG. “Exposure to lead can result in developmental delays, attention deficit issues, cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders and a lifetime of severe mental and physical ailments. There is no safe level of lead in a child’s body.”
 
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree there is no safe level of lead in children. Lead is a carcinogen, harms kidney function and has been linked to delayed growth. Lead exposure in children can lead to learning disabilities and serious health consequences.
 
“Testing is essential to identify highly exposed children and the neighborhoods where kids are at greater risk of lead exposure,” said Little. “We thank Assemblymembers Reyes, Garcia, Quirk and Salas for elevating the issue of testing California’s most vulnerable children for lead and authoring this legislation.”
 
This law addresses many of the key issues identified in the state auditor’s report, and will require the Department of Health Care Services, managed care plans and providers to prioritize protective lead screening services for Medi-Cal children. Under the law’s provisions, Medi-Cal managed care plans are required to identify enrolled children who have not received the required lead tests, and notify the child’s healthcare provider, as well as state regulators, about the missed tests.
 
With the enactment of AB 2276, California can now clearly sanction managed care plans that don’t comply with lead testing requirements. In addition, the bill codifies additional risk factors the Department of Public Health must consider when determining how doctors should screen children for lead. The department is also required to update its funding formula for local lead poisoning prevention programs to account for the presence of all lead-exposed children in a county.
 
This legislation was cosponsored by EWG, the California Coalition of Welfare Rights Organizations and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.