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Lead poisoning levels among the city’s kids have dropped drastically over the last five years, a report released by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced last week. But with health officials failing to enforce testing for the condition among almost half of the city’s toddlers–a violation of state law–health advocates say the rates are really much higher.

According to the city’s report, lead poisoning among 6 month- to 6-year-old children in New York City declined by 65 percent from 1995 to 2000. The study also found, however, that only 56 percent of one- and two-year-olds are screened, despite state laws requiring tests at both ages. If those untested children were taken into account, the New York Public Interest Research Group, which completed its own study in June, finds that about 12,000 children were poisoned in 2000, nearly double the city’s figures.

“Obviously a lot of kids are being missed,” said Matthew Chachere of the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning (NYCCELP), which has pushed for stronger lead laws for years.

Deborah Nagin, director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the city’s health department, said so many kids go untested because of “both parents and doctors who think it’s no longer a problem.” Her office plans to run more public education and outreach campaigns in high-risk neighborhoood–Brooklyn and parts of Queens are particularly hard hit–and among families and doctors.

Meanwhile, NYCCELP plans to file a lawsuit against the state for neglecting to test children insured by Medicaid. Calls to the state Department of Health were not returned by press time.

NYPIRG and NYCCELP are also supporting City Council legislation, Intro. 101, which requires that the city health department make sure 75 percent of children under age 2 are tested for lead by 2003 and 90 percent by 2005. If those goals are not achieved, the bill says, the city will have to submit a plan to the Council explaining how it will meet those mandates.

The bill is sponsored by more than half of the members of the City Council, but it has not yet had a public hearing.

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