CDC Lowers Blood Lead Level Threshold For Categorizing At-Risk Children

Under the new guidelines, the number of children considered at risk from lead exposure could double.

Many more young children could be considered “high-risk” lead poisoning cases, after a new federal criteria was established last week that lowers the threshold for what is considered dangerous concentrations of lead among children five years of age and younger.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on October 28, announcing a plan to update its Blood Lead Reference Value for Children, as part of an effort to provide early detection measures and reduce preventable lead exposure cases, which may cause irreversible and long term side effects

Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children. More than half a million children in the U.S, have lead blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which was previously considered the CDC’s “level of concern” reference.
However, the threshold of concern was challenged earlier this year by the Lead Exposure Prevention and Advisory Committee (LEPAC), which consists of 15 Federal and non-Federal experts in the fields of epidemiology, toxicology, mental health, pediatrics, early childhood education, special education, diet and nutrition, and environmental health.

According to a LEPAC recommendation made on May 14, the CDC has decided to significantly lower the blood lead reference value level to 3.5 µg/dL from 5 µg/dL in U.S. children age’s one through five years old.

“Lead exposure at all levels is harmful to children and can be detrimental to their long-term health,” CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry said in the press release. “Protecting the health and wellbeing of children as they grow and develop is of the utmost importance, and I am confident this update will allow us to further safeguard the health of the next generation.”

The CDC indicates that the change in criteria is aimed at focusing resources on children with the highest BLLs, compared to most U.S. children ages 1-5, so more prompt actions can be taken to reduce their levels, mitigate health effects, and identify or eliminate sources of lead exposure.

While under the 5 µg/dL threshold, reports have indicated as many as 200,000 children between one and five years of age were considered high-risk. However, under the 3.5 µg/dL baseline, some reports have projected that number to more than double.

Although lead paint has been banned in the U.S., many homes nationwide still have the toxic paint, and as the properties age, there is a continuing risk that the paint may chip or flake off of the walls, which poses a serious risk of lead poisoning for young children who ingest the paint chips. The CDC has stated those of non-Hispanic Black or African American race, living in low-income households and those who are immigrants or refugees, are more likely to live in communities where lead is pervasive.

Sources of lead exposure include lead-based paint, which was used in homes constructed through 1978, lead naturally occurring in soil, renovation repairs, old plumbing, old playground equipment, water, industrial pollution, and household dust contaminated from other exposures.

Lead exposure during childhood can affect a child’s ability to learn and develop. While routine testing can detect elevated blood lead levels in children, health experts emphasize there is no safe blood level of lead exposure, Side effects of lead poisoning can result in nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, cognitive impairment, coma and even death for young children.

Was Your Child Diagnosed With Elevated Blood Lead Levels from Lead Paint?

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According to the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation data, researchers estimate approximately 240 million people are overexposed to harmful lead, resulting in approximately 900,000 deaths each year caused by long-term health effects of lead exposure, including kidney damage and cardiovascular disease.

Exposure to even low levels of lead may play a larger role in heart disease and deaths in the United States. Ensuring children are tested for lead exposure and treated is key to preventing illness, CDC experts warn.

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