Lead poisoning cases drop in Baltimore and in Maryland, Department of the Environment moves to reduce potential exposures in more homes
Maryland Department of the Environment releases 2014 Childhood Lead Registry report; number of cases decreases to lowest levels recorded, showing continued impact of Maryland’s enforcement of 1994 law; MDE takes action to reduce lead exposures in newer rental housing covered for first time under the law
BALTIMORE, MD (September 3, 2015) – Childhood lead poisoning in Maryland decreased in Baltimore City and in Maryland as a whole last year, a report released today by the Maryland Department of the Environment shows.
The report shows the number of children in Baltimore and Maryland with elevated blood lead levels to have decreased to the lowest levels since data has been collected in connection with Maryland’s 1994 lead law. The number of childhood lead poisoning cases has decreased by 98 percent since the enactment of the law.
The report also shows that a significant percentage of confirmed lead poisoning cases in Maryland – particularly in areas outside of Baltimore City – are linked to homes that had not previously been covered by the lead law. A key change in the law expands the type of properties covered to include, in addition to rental units built prior to 1950, rental units built prior to 1978. That change took effect January 1, 2015.
Moving to protect more children from the health risks associated with lead paint poisoning, MDE last year began accepting applications to register properties that are for the first time required to comply with the provisions of the Maryland lead law. More than 50,000 units covered for the first time under the law have registered with MDE’s lead program. MDE is sending out 87,000 letters to owners of properties that are believed to be rental units built between 1950 and 1978 but that have not been registered as required under the change in the law.
The MDE report also shows a decline in the percentage of tested children exhibiting lead in their blood at levels that are below the state-law-defined elevated level of 10 micrograms per deciliter. These levels are still of concern based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MDE and the Baltimore City Health Department are coordinating to investigate properties in the city that are pre-1978 rental units (or that have not been ruled out as being covered under the lead law) that are the residences of children with test results of 5-9 micrograms per deciliter.
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.
The number of childhood lead poisoning cases has decreased by 98 percent since the enactment of Maryland’s landmark 1994 Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act, but in recent years an increasing share of new lead poisoning cases have been linked to pre-1978 homes that had not been covered by the law.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has released the 2014 Maryland Childhood Lead Registry Annual Surveillance Report. 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 declined slightly, remaining at about 0.3 percent. The report shows that 1.1 percent of tested children in Baltimore showed elevated blood lead – the lowest percentage since enactment of the law.
The report also shows that more than 109,000 Maryland children were tested in 2014.
Maryland’s 1994 lead law had previously applied to rental units built before 1950, when lead paint was prohibited in Baltimore City. In areas of Maryland outside of Baltimore City, half of the confirmed cases of initial reports of lead poisoning in 2014 involved children living in post-1949 rental housing.
Because a significant percentage of new childhood lead poisoning cases are linked to homes built after 1949, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in 2012 to expand the universe of properties covered under the law to include rental properties built before 1978, when the use of lead paint was prohibited nationally. That change became effective January 1, 2015.
On July 1, 2014, MDE began accepting registration applications for the rental units that would be covered by the law for the first time. Owners of these properties can register them with MDE online at www.mde.maryland.gov/LeadRegistration. More than 50,000 units covered for the first time under the law have registered with MDE’s lead program. More than 34,000 rental units have been certified lead-free since Jan. 1, 2015; given the time frame relative to the expansion of the law taking effect it is believed that a significant number of those are rental units built between 1950 and 1978.
The 2012 legislation also allows MDE to seek delegation to administer a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that regulates renovations, repairs and painting in homes that were built before 1978, whether they are rental units or owner-occupied, and in pre-1978 facilities with young children. The rule requires contractors who do work on these properties to receive training and use lead-safe work practices. Maryland regulations to allow MDE to administer the federal rule were proposed last year and are under review. In 2014, more than 35 percent of confirmed cases of initial reports of lead poisoning in Maryland were linked to owner-occupied housing.
MDE’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program serves as the coordinating agency of statewide efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
Under the Maryland lead law, MDE: 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.
Among other data, the annual Childhood Lead Registry survey compiles all blood lead tests conducted on Maryland children up to 18 years of age, and provides blood lead test results to local health departments as needed for case management and planning. Only the data for children under the age of 6 years is used for review of the lead poisoning prevention effort. MDE has compiled this comprehensive assessment on statewide childhood blood lead screening since 1993.
Key statistics from the 2014 Childhood Lead Registry annual survey include:
- Statewide, 355 children (or 0.3 percent of those tested) had a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above. This is a decrease from the analogous figure of 371 (0.3 percent) for 2013. In Baltimore City, 194 children (or 1.1 percent of those tested) had a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above, which is a decrease from 218 (1.2 percent) in 2012.
- Of the 355 cases statewide for 2014, 262 were new cases. Of the 194 cases in Baltimore City, 129 were new cases.
- Statewide, 109,031 children under the age of 6 were tested, which is a slight decrease from the 2013 figure of 110,082. In Baltimore City, 17,961 children were tested, a decrease from 18,535 in 2013. The report states that the decrease in elevated blood level cases does not appear to be due to the decrease in the number of children tested.
- In Maryland counties outside of Baltimore City 83.3 percent of confirmed cases of initial reports of lead poisoning were linked to homes other than pre-1950 residential rental units. (i.e. rental units built between 1950 and 1978 and owner-occupied properties). The analogous figure for Baltimore City for 2014 was 47.8 percent.
A 2011 MDE study found that properties built between 1950 and 1960 have an 80 percent likelihood of containing lead-based paint. This likelihood declines rapidly for properties built after 1960 until use of lead paint was prohibited in 1978.
Maryland’s 1994 Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act 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. House Bill 644, passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012, requires owners of rental properties built before 1978, when the use of lead paint was prohibited, to register these properties and take steps toward reducing the risk of lead poisoning beginning in January 2015. In addition, the legislation raised the annual registration fee to $30 per year per rental unit.
The number of properties affected by the change in the law (rental properties built from 1950 up to 1978) is estimated at more than 250,000.
Failure to register, certify or follow approved lead-safe work practices may subject property owners to thousands of dollars in fines and potential lawsuits.
“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
“It is significant to see the increase in properties being certified as lead safe in Maryland. We see this an important opportunity in advancing lead poisoning prevention throughout the state. And while we continue to see an overall decline in lead poisoning, this data also shows the need for a more comprehensive approach to the testing of children and remediation of significant hazards still facing Maryland families living in older housing. This report is a good tool for crafting an improved strategy for lead poisoning prevention. Given the fact that there is no safe level of lead, prevention is the only cure.”
— Ruth Ann Norton, President and CEO, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Graphic: Childhood blood lead surveillance statewide 1993-2014
Graphic: Childhood blood lead surveillance Baltimore City 1993-2014
Maryland Department of the Environment Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
2014 Maryland Childhood Lead Registry Annual Surveillance Report
Maryland lead law fact sheet
New lead law poster
MDE lead registration
Online lead rental registration
Baltimore City Health Department
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
EPA’s Renovation Repair and Painting rule
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