Washington, DC—The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) commends the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for supporting its Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention’s recommendations to redefine lead exposure in children.
Before today, the CDC defined a “blood lead level of concern” in children as 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (μg/dL) or higher, even though scientific evidence demonstrates well-documented adverse health and developmental effects in children with far lower blood lead levels. Today, CDC announced that it will replace the term “blood lead level of concern” with a reference value based on the 97.5th percentile of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey blood lead level distribution in children ages 1 to 5, which is closer to 5 μg/dL. This new reference more accurately reflects evolving national health data on the damage done by any childhood lead exposure.
“Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirmed what pediatricians have recognized for decades: There is simply no safe level of lead exposure for children,” said AAP President Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP.
There are approximately 250,000 children across the country whose blood lead levels are 10 μg/dL or higher and an additional 200,000 children have blood lead levels between 5 μg/dL and 10 μg/dL.
On average, children whose blood lead levels rise from 10 to 20 μg/dL lose two to three IQ points. Recent studies have demonstrated proportionately greater harm from low level lead exposure than from higher levels of lead.
“Lead damage is permanent and irreversible,” said Dr. Block. “Children with elevated lead levels are more likely to have behavior problems, attention deficit and reading disabilities, and fail to graduate from high school, in addition to experiencing a host of other impairments to their developing cardiovascular, immune and endocrine systems.”
Few options exist for treating high levels of lead exposure, as the treatments themselves have potentially dangerous side effects and may only prevent lead poisoning fatalities. No options exist for treating the cognitive and behavioral impacts of lead exposure or for treating lead exposure at low to moderate levels. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention recommended the agency focus its resources on primary prevention of lead exposure, which AAP supports.
“Pediatricians know that prevention works. Every day in pediatric practice, we test infants and toddlers for lead exposure, discuss lead exposure prevention with parents, and administer interventions when necessary,” said Dr. Block. “But we cannot do it alone: Federal, state, and local authorities, as well as other health care professionals, each have a role to play in preventing lead exposure in children.”
While the CDC’s announcement reflects its commitment to the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention’s recommendations in principle, the agency does not have the budgetary authority needed to implement many of them, particularly primary prevention interventions. The CDC’s lead prevention program funding went from about $30 million to $2 million this fiscal year, sharply reducing grants to local and state public health departments that had funded lead exposure prevention programs across the country.
“Our nation’s pediatricians call on Congress to reinstate funding for lead prevention programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as soon as possible,” said Dr. Block. “After today’s announcement on the long-lasting damages of lead exposure to children’s growing minds and bodies, Congress must not leave these critical programs unfunded.”
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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. (www.aap.org)