Lead poisoning now affects 1 in 38 children

April 8, 2013

More than a half million US children now have lead poisoning despite progress made in eliminating lead exposure, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than a half million US children now have lead poisoning despite progress made in eliminating lead exposure, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found that the percentage of young children with blood lead levels (BLLs) at or above the revised upper reference interval value of 5 µg/dL during the 2007-2010 cycle was 2.6% or an estimated 535,000 children. The current upper reference interval value is based on the 97.5th percentile of the distribution of BLLs in US children aged 1 to 5 years in the combined 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 cycles of NHANES.

The report noted that substantial progress has been made over the last 40 years in reducing the number of children with elevated BLLs. Data from the 1976-1980 cycles of NHANES estimated that 88% of children aged 1 to 5 years had BLLs of 10 µg/dL or higher.

Strategies at national, state, and local levels have been successful at eliminating lead in vehicle emissions; eliminating lead paint hazards in housing; reducing lead content in air, water, and in consumer products marketed to children; and identifying and screening populations at high risk. Elevated lead levels in the blood cause organ damage as well as lifelong learning and behavioral deficits in children. No safe threshold for lead exposure has been identified.

CDC’s analyses focused on demographic categories with a history of risk for high BLLs: age, sex, race/ethnicity, age of housing, poverty income ratio, and Medicaid enrollment status. Children aged younger than 5 years, those from poorer families, and those enrolled in Medicaid showed significantly higher BBLs than older, more affluent children. Non-Hispanic black children had significantly higher BLLs compared with either non-Hispanic white or Mexican American children.