Local public health officials encouraged by lead trends

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Childhood lead exposure hasn't been eliminated in Monroe County, but the numbers look a lot better than they used to. Much of the credit goes to local efforts to attack the source: lead paint in homes, particularly in older rental units.

This morning, the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning released 2013 county figures on childhood lead exposure. Of the 13,607 children aged 1 and 2 tested for lead, 197 — 1.5 percent — were found to have elevated blood-lead levels. That seems like a slight increase from 2012, but approximately 340 more children were tested in 2013. The testing increase occurred entirely in city or city-suburban ZIP codes, according to the coalition. 

And the 2013 figures still represent a massive improvement from 2001, when 13,259 children were screened and 1,179 — 9 percent — were at or above the threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter.  A paper by Monroe County Health Department staff, also released this morning, says that the countywide decrease in children with elevated blood-lead levels occurred at a rate almost double state and national decreases.

"All in all, I think we're seeing continued progress," said Dr. Stan Schaffer, a pediatrician and coalition board member.

But the 2013 numbers also contain figures for a lower threshold — the number of children with blood lead levels between 5 and 9 micrograms per deciliter. Last year, 689 of the screened children were within that range. Last year, a federal committee recommended considering any blood lead level above 5 micrograms per deciliter as elevated, which is what led the county Health Department to start collecting that data.

"There is no safe level for childhood lead poisoning, and that's been confirmed by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control]," said Dr. Byron Kennedy, the county's public health director.

Mel Callan, a family nurse practitioner and co-chair of the coalition's board, said the source of lead in most childhood exposure cases is old lead-containing paint from windows, porches, and doors. Those are places where friction and wear can cause the paint to flake or turn to dust, she said. She and other speakers said city and county inspection programs are vital to preventing lead paint exposure.

The coalition's press release, along with the county data and the Health Department's paper, are available here.

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