ABC27 FactChecker: Does Pa. have more dangerous lead levels than Flint?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – ABC27 is fact-checking a widely-circulated article that compares lead levels in some Pennsylvania cities to the crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The article from Vox.Com has a big, bold headline that reads, “18 cities in Pennsylvania reported higher levels of lead exposure than Flint.”

It sounded alarming, so ABC27 went through Pennsylvania’s Childhood Lead Surveillance Report. At first glance, the numbers in Pennsylvania are alarming.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says five micrograms of lead per tenth of a liter of blood is cause for concern.

In York, 12.41 percent, or 200 children tested showed lead levels above that point.. In Harrisburg, it was 12.16 percent, or 300 children. In Lebanon, it was 12.99 percent, or 79 children.

The sample sizes in each city are so different that ABC27 had a hard time making comparisons, which brought up serious questions about the Vox article.

The entire basis of the article is comparing Pennsylvania cities to Flint, using different sample sizes, different methods, and different situations.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health discussed that issue in a media conference call.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate or accurate to try to draw the analogy,” Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy said. “The issue here is a child with an elevated blood level.”

That’s as opposed to Flint, where the source of high lead levels is the water, which is a public commodity, treated and supplied by the government.

In Pennsylvania, reports show the main source of high lead levels is older houses with lead paint. Short of busting into your home and getting rid of the lead, state leaders can’t do much about that aspect.

They are considering changing policies. For example, right now Pennsylvania does not require across-the-board lead testing in children. The Department of Health is also trying to keep up with changing standards.

“We will be adjusting our protocol to follow the CDC,” Dr. Murphy said, “and we are going to be working with them to do more data collection to have a better understanding of what should change in Pennsylvania.”

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