BALTIMORE (October 26, 2020) – Childhood lead poisoning cases in Maryland decreased last year to the lowest levels since data has been collected in connection with the state’s 1994 lead law, according to the 2019 Childhood Blood Lead Surveillance report, released today by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
Historically low levels were reached in lead poisoning cases as defined by the benchmark used for many years by the state, including in 2019. Meanwhile, cases relating to a more protective standard that helps form the basis of Maryland’s current actions to reduce childhood lead poisoning also showed a steady and continuing decline. The new report also shows increased numbers of children tested for lead exposure under Maryland’s universal testing program.
“Lead poisoning is a preventable environmental injustice and we are making real progress in eradicating it,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Through universal testing, strong enforcement, and a new emphasis on responding to lower levels of lead poisoning, we can continue to reduce childhood lead poisoning in Maryland.”
The report showed that just more than 0.2% of young children tested across the state in 2019 showed blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter, the level that state law defined as elevated for 14 years, including during 2019. The percentage is the lowest since the beginning of such data collection in1993 and represents a decrease of more than 99% from the earliest days of data collection. The number of Maryland children identified with blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter or above decreased from 390 in 2018 to 328 in 2019, a decrease of nearly 16% decrease.
The report showed that 0.7% of young children tested in Baltimore City in 2019 showed blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter — also the lowest comparable percentage since the beginning of such data collection in 1993.
The report also shows that the percentage of young children tested for lead and identified with a blood lead level of between 5 and 9 micrograms per deciliter has declined from about 18% in 2000 to less than 1% in 2019. The number of children identified with blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or above decreased from 1,435 in 2018 to 1,198 in 2019, a 16.5% decrease.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control established 5 micrograms per deciliter as a “reference value” to identify children with blood lead levels that are higher than most children and require follow-up case management. In recent years, MDE has investigated properties for compliance with Maryland’s lead law upon receipt of referrals from the Baltimore City health department based on cases with blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or above.
On July 1, 2020, the “Maryland Healthy Children Act” went into full effect. The law lowered the definition of an elevated blood lead level to the CDC reference level. It requires MDE or the local health department in Maryland jurisdictions to provide case management, including environmental investigations to identify lead sources, when a child is diagnosed with a blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter or above. “Early intervention is a key component to ensure families with children exposed to lead are provided resources to mitigate the effects of lead exposure,” the report states.
If, during the environmental investigation, chipping, peeling, or flaking paint is observed by the inspector and the home is a property covered by Maryland’s lead law, a “Notice of Defect” will be issued by MDE or the local health department, triggering a requirement that the property owner take steps to ensure that risks of lead exposure are reduced.
The annual report also looks at the sources of childhood lead poisoning in Maryland, which in addition to lead-based paint in housing include certain cosmetics, spices, pottery and cookware, and other consumer products. The report did not indicate any lead poisoning cases in 2019 caused by exposure to lead in drinking water. MDE enforces a state law that requires schools serving children pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students to test for the presence of lead in all drinking water outlets.
Also, effective July 1, 2020, MDE’s Land Restoration Program reduced the residential soil lead screening standard for brownfield redevelopment properties from 400 to 200 parts per million. This will further ensure that lead levels in soils are reduced to within acceptable levels.
As childhood lead poisoning cases in Maryland remain at their lowest recorded levels, blood lead testing rates have increased under the state’s universal testing initiative and the Maryland Department of Health initiative to endorse Point of Care testing for lead, which allows healthcare providers to test children and provide results in the same office visit. In 2019, 132,224 children age 6 and younger were tested for lead, a slight increase of about 0.5% compared to 2018.
October 25-31 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. Governor Larry Hogan proclaimed this week as Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in Maryland.
Childhood lead poisoning is preventable
Exposure to lead is the most significant and widespread environmental hazard for children in Maryland. Children are at the greatest risk from birth to age 6 while their neurological systems are developing. Exposure to lead can cause long-term neurological damage that may be associated with learning and behavioral problems and with decreased intelligence.
MDE coordinates statewide efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning. Under the Maryland lead law, MDE: assures compliance with mandatory requirements for lead risk reduction in rental units built before 1978; maintains a statewide listing of registered and inspected units, and provides blood lead surveillance through a registry of test results of all children tested in Maryland. The lead program also: oversees case management follow-up by local health departments for children with elevated blood lead levels; certifies and enforces performance standards for inspectors and contractors conducting lead hazard reduction, and performs environmental investigations of lead-poisoned children. The lead program provides oversight for community education to parents, tenants, rental property owners, homeowners, and health care providers to enhance their roles in lead poisoning prevention. Maryland works in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Baltimore City, and other local governments and non-profit organizations such as the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative to prevent childhood lead poisoning.