The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently lowered the threshold for acceptable levels of lead in children, which means that kids previously thought to have safe levels of lead in their systems may now actually have lead poisoning.
The change targets the amount of lead in the bloodstream, and shifts the official level required for a diagnosis of lead poisoning in children. Under the new policy, a child with 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood would have lead poisoning. (A deciliter, or 1/10 of a liter, is equal to just over 3 fluid ounces, and a microgram is 1/1000th of a gram.)
The CDC decision drops acceptable levels of lead by half and marks the first change to lead poisoning levels in 20 years. The CDC ruling came after official recommendations from a committee of experts in January.
Some doctors and researchers say this change could lead to many more children, especially those under 5, diagnosed with lead poisoning. One doctor, John Rosen, professor of pediatrics and head of the division of environmental sciences at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, says that the number of children with lead poisoning could go from the current level of about 250,000 to more than 1 million.
Lead poisoning causes serious problems for brain development in children. Long-term effects of poisoning include learning disabilities, behavioral and attention problems and, in the worst cases, it can cause seizures, coma and death.
Lead used to be a common part of gasoline and household paint. It is no longer present in gas and was banned from use in household paint in 1978. However, child safety experts warn, lead exposure and lead poisoning are far from concerns of the past. Houses built before the lead ban may pose a poisoning danger, particularly since lead has to be removed through a special process carried out by experts.
According to Dr. Rosen, household paint is still the leading source of lead poisoning in children. Other sources of lead may include toys, some kinds of art and craft supplies, old faucets and house pipes. Certain jobs also expose workers to higher amounts of lead, which can then raise contamination levels for their families.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has a helpful page about lead poisoning, with tips about lead poisoning–including a mention of which jobs may increase lead poisoning risks.