READING, Pa. | Berks County officials and doctors are coming together to address the serious problem of lead poisoning in children.
According to data, lead poisoning and exposure are disproportionately higher in communities of color. Part of the issue in the city of Reading is the age of the homes, paired with the poverty level, making it more likely for kids to be at risk.
"Lead poisoning lurks below the surface and often goes unnoticed and can have a significant impact on a child's health and behavior," said Berks County District Attorney John Adams.
A new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids brings to light the dangers of lead exposure for children in Pennsylvania.
Berks County has the third-highest number of children poisoned by lead in the state; that's about 500 kids each year.
"Children are at higher risk of lead exposure because their brains are still developing," said Dr. Karen Wang, director of pediatrics for Berks Community Health Center. "[This is] especially [true in] children under 6 when exposed to lead while their brain is actively in development and crucial connections are being made."
Medical experts say lead poisoning can impact a child's impulse control, complex decision making, and behavior.
Studies show there's a direct correlation between lead in blood and criminal tendencies, something city and county leaders are working to address.
"We created in our community development a group that specializes in the lead reduction programs," says Jamal Abodalo, director of community development services in Reading.
City officials are working with different organizations and applying for programs to help rehab homes with hazardous lead. They're also looking to partner with landlords and other organizations to temporarily house families while their homes are fixed.
"I think now is the time to get on this," says Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt. "Because I don't think there's an excuse that we don't have the money. I think we can definitely earmark a sufficient amount of city and county dollars to remediate this lead issue."
The city is applying for grant money. Berks County is expecting more than $80 million in American Rescue money, about $60 million in Reading, that it's looking to put toward working on the lead poisoning issue and remediation efforts.