Lead Poisoning Threshold for Children May Be Lowered Again by CDC
Federal health regulators may lower what is considered the “level of concern” for lead in children’s blood, which would increase the number of children identified as potentially suffering from lead poisoning.
According to a report by Reuters, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is weighing a reduction in what it considers elevated blood lead levels for children under age 6, from the current 5 micrograms per deciliter to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter.
The CDC is reportedly talking with a number of groups about the potential drop in lead poisoning threshold, including public housing officials, state health officials, laboratories, and medical device manufacturers. According to the wire service’s sources, the lowered threshold is based on data from a recent national health survey and will be brought up at a CDC meeting on January 17.
The agency reviews its standards for elevated lead levels in children every four years. However, it only applies to children under the age of 6, as there is no lead threshold for older children and adults.
In 2012, the CDC dropped the “level of concern” for blood lead levels in children under the age of 6 from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5. The move doubled the amount of children in the U.S. considered at risk for adverse health effects at the time.
Lead poisoning for children poses a serious health risk, potentially causing nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death.
One of the more common causes of of lead poisoning is lead-based paint, which was banned in the United States in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.
Recent years have also seen a focus on lead in drinking water, stemming from the recent and ongoing Flint water crisis, during which a change to the water system resulted in high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water, causing thousands of children to suffer lead exposure and, potentially, lead poisoning.
The CDC estimates that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.
That number is likely to increase significantly if the threshold is lowered.
The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.
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