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article imageCDC considers lowering lead level threshold by 30 percent

By Karen Graham     Dec 30, 2016 in Health
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering lowering its threshold for lead levels in children by at least 30 percent. The move would make it easier for health practitioners to identify more children affected by the heavy metal.
From time to time, the CDC adjusts the threshold for lead levels as nationwide levels drop. The last time this was done was in 2012 when the CDC set the threshold at five micrograms per deciliter for children under age six. And while no lead level is safe for children, those who test above the threshold set by the agency require a public health response.
But based on a new public health survey, the CDC is considering lowering the reference level down to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter in the coming months, based on information from six people briefed by the agency, according to Reuters. The measure is supposed to come up for discussion at a CDC meeting on Jan. 17 in Atlanta.
But the CDC's move could prove to be controversial. Lowering the threshold could drain already sparse resources used to address health responses involving those children most impacted by elevated blood lead levels. The CDC budget for assisting states with lead safety programs was just $17 million.
And surprisingly, only 29 states, Washington D.C. and five cities are funded by the CDC for safe lead level programs as well as the reporting of lead levels in children. A number of states not funded by the agency report lead level statistics to the CDC voluntarily.
The CDC has estimated that as many as 500,000 U.S. children have lead levels at or above the current threshold. The agency encourages “case management” for these children, which is often carried out by state or local health departments. But progress has been uneven in addressing what is a major public health threat in many communities.
Reuters published an investigation this month that revealed nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates of at least 10 percent. This was double those levels of lead in Flint, Michigan during their water crisis. Additionally, over 1,100 of the communities had elevated blood lead levels that were four times higher than the levels in Flint.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans on adopting a rule requiring an environmental inspection, and lead cleanup if hazards are found in any public housing developments. HUD says it will follow the CDC's guidelines if and when they are changed.
“The only thing that will affect our policy is the CDC recommendation for environmental intervention,” said Dr. Warren Friedman, with HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes.
More about Lead exposure, CDC, lowering threshold, regulatory power, periodic changes
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