New Recommendations to Define Elevated Blood Lead Levels
In January 2012, a committee of experts recommended that the CDC change its “blood lead level of concern.” The recommendation was based on a growing number of scientific studies that show that even low blood lead levels can cause lifelong health effects. The committee recommended that CDC link lead levels to data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) to identify children living or staying for long periods in environments that expose them to lead hazards. This new level is based on the population of children aged 1-5 years in the U.S. who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood. Currently, that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. CDC’s “blood lead level of concern” has been 10 micrograms per deciliter. The new value means that more children will be identified as having lead exposure earlier and parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities can take action earlier. The committee also said, as CDC has long said, that the best way to protect children is to prevent lead exposure in the first place.
Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to lead. There are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.
What Do Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Children?
- CDC has recently updated its recommendations on children’s blood lead levels.
- By shifting our focus to primary prevention of lead exposure, we can reduce or eliminate dangerous lead sources in children’s environments BEFORE they are exposed.
- What has not changed is the recommendation for when to use medical treatment for children. Experts recommend chelation therapy when a child is found with a test result of greater than or equal to 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.
- Though lead can be found in many sources, lead exposure is entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead. Parents can take simple steps to make their homes more lead-safe.
- Children can be given a blood test to measure the level of lead in their blood. Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned about lead exposure.
Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.
The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
Update on Blood Lead Levels in Children
- Children can be given a blood test to measure the level of lead in their blood.
- Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children).
- In the past, blood lead level tests below 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood may, or may not, have been reported to parents. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.
- What has not changed is the recommendation for when to use medical treatment for children. These new recommendations do not change the recommendation that chelation therapy be considered when a child is found with a test result of greater than or equal to 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.
To learn more about the CDC's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, visit http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/about/program.htm