This is a corrected version of this story.
Last year, Monroe County had fewer reports of children younger than age 6 with elevated levels of lead in their blood. Sort of.
The numbers and trends depend on which threshold is used. The key statistic, however, is the number of children with blood-lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter. In Monroe County, that’s the blood-lead threshold that triggers intervention by public health officials.
And the number of children who tested above that threshold dropped from 290 in 2010 to 222 in 2011, according to statistics released yesterday by the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning. That’s good news. The 2010 uptick was the first since 2002. There were seven more cases in 2010 than in 2009, so the increase appears to have been a statistical blip.
The 2011 figure is significantly lower than it was in 1999, when 1,698 children had blood-lead levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter.
“We have been making tremendous progress over the years in reducing the amount of lead poisoned children,” says Dr. Andrew Doniger, director of the county Health Department.
In 2011, the number of children with blood-lead levels above 20 micrograms per deciliter increased to 19, compared to the 13 cases in 2010. This could be another statistical blip; it was the first increase since 2002. And the number of tests in general has increased, especially in the suburbs, says Dr. Stanley Schaffer, a pediatrician at Strong Pediatrics and co-director of the Western New York Lead Resource Center’s Rochester office.
Doniger says he’s not too concerned about the uptick at the higher level. The figure is still lower than it was in 2009 or any year the decade before.
Mel Callan, a nurse practitioner with Highland Family Medicine and co-chair of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, says more frequent inspection of older one- and two-unit buildings would help bring child lead poisoning numbers down further.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control recommended a lower intervention threshold of 5 micrograms per deciliter. Essentially, the CDC says that there is no safe level of lead. There were 993 Monroe County children under age 6 that crossed the 5 micrograms threshold.