A new state law took effect Monday that aims to protect more New Hampshire children from lead poisoning.
Part of the legislation that passed last year has already begun. It sets up universal lead testing for young children – requiring doctors to test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead poisoning, unless parents opt out.
The next phase of the law, now in effect, lowers the threshold at which those tests trigger more intervention by state health officials – from 10 parts per billion, to 7.5 ppb.
That’s the new blood lead level that will prompt professional lead inspections, home visits by state nurses, and more health resources for families, including case management, parent education and referrals to developmental services.
In the most recent state data available, from 2017, at least a few hundred children tested positive for lead levels between 7.5 ppb and 10 ppb – meaning their tests would trigger more response under the new law, if they were tested now.
To that end, the new law also requires landlords of any rental unit where a child tests above the 7.5 ppb lead threshold to fix the hazards – usually by remediating lead paint – within 90 days.
Officials say they don’t expect previous tests between 7.5 ppb and 10 ppb will be grandfathered into receiving more response under the new law.
New Hampshire has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, making lead paint the state’s most common source of lead poisoning
There is technically no safe level of lead exposure, which can cause developmental delays and other health problems especially in young children.
The new regulations also target drinking water. They require schools to test sinks and water fountains for lead more regularly, and install new plumbing within 30 days if lead is found above 15 ppb – the Environmental Protection Agency action level for lead in water.
State officials say they saw lead above that level in about 5% of school and daycare samples submitted up to this point. Those were concentrated in Manchester and Nashua.
Officials say one reason the problem may appear concentrated in those cities is because they rely on regulated public water systems – meaning users don’t routinely test their water for contaminants at the tap.
Private well users, meanwhile, may be more likely to test at the tap more frequently – which officials say could partly account for more rural areas having fewer high-lead samples.
Plumbing installed prior to 1986 may contain unsafe amounts of lead, and faucets may have contained high concentrations of lead until 2014.
State officials say some public funding is available to help schools and daycare facilities comply with the new law.
Landlords are also slated to have access to low-interest loans for lead paint remediation once a new state budget is approved.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 5 parts per billion is the CDC action level for lead in water.