Lead poisoning cases remain low but testing and prevention must increase
Maryland Department of the Environment releases 2015 Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report
Baltimore, MD (September 28, 2016) – A report released today by the Maryland Department of the Environment shows that childhood lead poisoning in Maryland remains near record-low levels. However, the 2015 Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report also finds that the number of children tested for the disease has stagnated in recent years and that the number of lead poisoning cases increased in areas of the state where testing was not mandated – underscoring the importance of the state’s new lead testing plan.
The Hogan administration announced a new Lead Testing Targeting Plan for Childhood Lead, which calls for all Maryland children to be tested at ages 1 and 2 regardless of where they live. Regulations adopted this year to implement the plan also make it easier for doctors’ offices to test for lead poisoning during routine visits, reducing the need for parents to make a separate trip to other medical facilities to have their children tested.
The report shows that the percentage of tested young children in Maryland with blood lead levels at or above the level that triggers actions under state law increased slightly compared to the 2014 record-low level but remained at approximately 0.3 percent. The report shows that 1.2 percent of tested children in Baltimore showed elevated blood lead, a slight increase compared to the year before when the lowest percentage since enactment of the law was recorded.
These findings represent a decrease since 1993 of more than 98 percent in the number of young children reported to have lead poisoning. Much of the decline in blood lead levels is the result of implementation and enforcement of Maryland’s 1994 Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act.
In addition to the new lead testing plan, under the Hogan administration Maryland has moved to protect more children from the health risks associated with lead paint poisoning by enforcing an expansion of the type of rental housing covered by the state’s lead law. Starting in 2015, rental properties built prior to 1978 are required to register with the Department of the Environment and comply with the lead law’s other requirements. Before that change in the law, only rental properties built prior to 1950 were covered by the law. As of 2015, more than 50,000 units built between 1950 and 1978 were registered with the Department of the Environment, bringing the total number of units registered to more than 146,000.
The report also shows a continuing decline in the percentage of tested children exhibiting lead in their blood at levels that are below the state’s legally defined elevated level of 10 micrograms per deciliter. Even blood lead levels below 10 micrograms per deciliter are of concern based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Department of the Environment and the Baltimore City Health Department are coordinating to investigate pre-1978 rental units in the city where children with test results of 5-9 micrograms per deciliter reside.
Childhood lead poisoning is a completely preventable disease.
Exposure to lead is the most significant and widespread environmental hazard for children in Maryland. Children are at the greatest risk from birth to age six while their neurological systems are developing. Exposure to lead can cause long-term neurological damage that may be associated with learning and behavioral problems and with decreased intelligence.
Maryland’s lead law requires owners of pre-1978 rental dwelling units to register their properties and reduce the potential for children’s exposure to lead paint hazards by performing specific lead risk reduction treatments prior to each change in tenancy. The Maryland Department of the Environment serves as the coordinating agency of statewide efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
Under the Maryland lead law, the Department of the Environment: assures compliance with mandatory requirements for lead risk reduction in rental units built before 1978; maintains a statewide listing of registered and inspected units; and provides blood lead surveillance through a registry of test results of all children tested in Maryland. The lead program also: oversees case management follow-up by local health departments for children with elevated blood lead levels; certifies and enforces performance standards for inspectors and contractors conducting lead hazard reduction; and performs environmental investigations of lead poisoned children. The lead program provides oversight for community education to parents, tenants, rental property owners, home owners and health care providers to enhance their roles in lead poisoning prevention.
The Department of the Environment has released the 2015 Maryland Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report. Key statistics from the report include:
- Statewide, 377 children (or 0.3 percent of those tested) had a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above. This is a slight increase from the analogous figure of 355 (0.3 percent of those tested) for 2014. In Baltimore City, 204 children (or 1.2 percent of those tested) had a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above, which is a slight increase from 194 (1.1 percent) in 2014.
- The number and percentage of tested children with blood lead levels of 5-9 micrograms per deciliter declined last year, from 2,004 (1.8 percent) in 2014 to 1,789 (1.6 percent) in 2015.
- Statewide, 110,217 children under the age of 6 were tested (20.6 percent), which is a slight increase from the 2014 figure of 109,031 (20.7 percent) but below the record level of 114,829 (23.4 percent) in 2010. In Baltimore City, 17,222 children were tested (29 percent), a decrease from 17,961 (30.6 percent) in 2014 and 19,702 (34 percent) in 2010.
- The number of children tested with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater in areas where testing was not mandated was 148 in 2015, compared to 107 in the prior year. The number of children in those areas with test results of 5-9 micrograms per deciliter also increased last year, from 704 in 2014 to 732 in 2015.
In 2015, 24.2 percent of children were tested in legally defined “at risk” areas where testing was mandated, compared to 19.6 percent in other areas. Previously, the “at risk” areas, determined based on a higher proportion of pre-1950 housing, included Baltimore City and Allegany, Caroline, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Somerset, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
In October 2015 the Hogan administration announced the new Lead Testing Targeting Plan. Maryland revised its regulations and procedures for lead testing to reduce childhood lead poisoning, effective March 28, 2016. The revised Targeting Plan defines the entire state as “at-risk” for exposure to lead, which means that all children born on Jan. 1, 2015 or after must be tested for lead exposure at ages 1 and 2. Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for increased action for children with high blood lead levels, Maryland has issued new guidance for health care providers regarding who needs to be tested and what follow up action is needed based on the test result.
“We are making progress but have much more to do to win the battle against childhood lead poisoning in Maryland. The Maryland Department of the Environment is committed to initiatives that will reduce exposure to lead in newer rental homes now covered under Maryland’s lead law and to enforcing the law for older rental units, including those in Baltimore City. We will work closely with our partners, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Housing and Community Development, Baltimore City, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative and the U.S. EPA to eliminate this completely preventable disease.”
— Ben Grumbles, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment
“Lead poisoning in children is not acceptable anywhere. The report’s data reinforce the importance of testing blood levels in our children throughout the state.”
– Dr. Howard Haft, Public Health Deputy Secretary, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“The findings in the state’s report support the call to expand the level of lead testing, not only for children but for homes built before 1978. As a community committed to protecting our children and improving their opportunities, we must increase our investment in primary prevention and source control as well as enforcement. There is only one cure for lead poisoning and that is prevention.”
— Ruth Ann Norton, President and CEO, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Maryland Department of the Environment mission
Our mission is to protect and restore the environment for the health and well-being of all Marylanders.