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CDC toughens definition of lead poisoning

May 16, 2012|By Michael Muskal

The standard for what constitutes lead poisoning in children has been sharply lowered for the first time in 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

In a posting on its website, the Atlanta-based center announced the change, which follows recommendations made in January by an advisory panel. The impact of the decision, however, remained unclear, because the CDC also noted it lacked funds to pay for more testing or locate and decontaminate sites that may be poisoned by lead.

“The proposed methods to address recommendations are contingent on the availability of resources. In FY 2012, funding for CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention activities was reduced significantly from FY 2011. As a result, funding is not available for state and local Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Programs (CLPPPs). In many instances, these reductions limit CDC’s ability to fully implement many of these recommendations in the short term,” the Center noted in its report.

The new, tougher standard defines poisoning as 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood; the old standard was 10 micrograms for children younger than 6 years old.

Lead poisoning is often associated with old urban areas, where children can ingest lead-based paint chips or dust during renovations from aging houses. Lead has been banned in paint since 1978. Lead can also come from dust at work sites and from leaded gasoline. It is detected through blood testing.

The element is especially harmful to young children still developing. High levels can cause coma while smaller amounts can lead to lower IQs, according to the CDC.

Officials estimate 77,000 to 255,000 children have high levels of lead, though determining the exact figure is complicated because so many cases remain undiagnosed. The new standard could raise the toll to as much as 450,000.

The last time the CDC changed its standard was in 1991. The center will reassess the standard every four years.

While generally following its advisory panel’s recommendation, the CDC said it could not carry out some recommendations even though it agreed, because the funding was lacking.

Specifically, the advisory group had called on doctors to report high levels to local health departments, retest the children to see whether there was any change and help teach parents how to find and eliminate lead sources. The CDC agreed it lacked staff or funds.


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