McKinney, NAACP forum to focus on model lead legislation

Indiana lawmakers and environmental law and policy experts will gather Thursday at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law to discuss model legislation designed to address lead poisoning among Indiana children after tests of drinking water found “alarming levels” in Indianapolis schools.

The forum, in partnership with the Greater Indianapolis chapter of the NAACP, will take place from 6-8 p.m. Scheduled attendees include Democratic Sens. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis and Lonnie Randolph of East Chicago, along with Republican Sen. Rick Niemeyer of Lowell. Former McKinney environmental law professor Carlton Waterhouse, now at the Howard University School of Law, also is among the expected participants, as is Heidi Beidinger, director of the Eck Institute for Global Health at the University of Notre Dame.

“Earlier this year, the Greater Indianapolis NAACP received results of lead water testing conducted by the Marion County Public Health Department. The report showed alarming levels of lead and copper in water fountains and sinks in many school districts, which required action to remove sources of lead from those schools,” NAACP said in a statement announcing the forum.

Lead exposure in children is known to cause a range of physical ailments as well as behavioral, learning and developmental problems.

Advocates cite guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating there is no known safe level of lead in young children. They point to legislation passed in New Jersey after a recent lead exposure surfaced in schools there. That new law calls for health authorities to act when a child’s blood level reaches 5 micrograms per deciliter, as recommended by the CDC. Several New Jersey officials also are scheduled to attend Thursday’s forum to discuss that state’s experience.

While some local Indiana health departments take action when a child’s blood test reaches the 5-microgram level, others do not, according to NAACP. “Indiana also has a poor record of conducting lead screenings during doctor visits, which is the best way to identify children with lead poisoning,” according to the NAACP. “Federal law requires all children eligible for Medicaid to be screened for lead poisoning at 12 and 24 months. According to the state’s 2017 Childhood Lead Surveillance Report, while 94% of all Medicaid-eligible children  received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, only 11% of those children were given the required blood lead test.”

Randolph has introduced numerous lead-related bills in recent years after widespread lead contamination in and around East Chicago came to light, requiring federal cleanups. 

More information about the forum is available here. 

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