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Cuyahoga County Board of Health lead risk assessor Tom Barsa swipes a windowsill for lead Thursday, April 4, 2013, in Lakewood, Ohio. More than half a million U.S. children are now believed to have lead poisoning, roughly twice the previous high estimate, health officials reported Thursday. The increase is the result of the government last year lowering the threshold for lead poisoning, so now more children are considered at risk. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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Cuyahoga County Board of Health lead risk assessor Tom Barsa tested a windowsill on Thursday, in Lakewood, Ohio.

TONY DEJAK • Associated Press ,

1 in 38 children believed to have lead poisoning

  • Article by: MIKE STOBBE
  • Associated Press
  • April 5, 2013 - 10:31 AM

 

– More than half a million U.S. children are now believed to have lead poisoning, roughly twice the previous high estimate, health officials reported Thursday.

The increase is the result of the government last year lowering the threshold for lead poisoning, so now more children are considered at risk.

Too much lead can harm developing brains and can mean a lower IQ and cause behavior problems. Lead poisoning used to be a much larger concern in the United States, but has declined significantly as lead was removed from paint and gasoline and other sources.

The number translates to about 1 in 38 young children. That estimate suggests a need for more testing and preventive measures, some experts said, but budget cuts last year eliminated federal grant funding for such programs. Those cuts represent “an abandonment of children,” said David Rosner, a Columbia University public health historian who writes books about lead poisoning. “We’ve been acting like the problem was solved and this was a thing of the past,” he added.

Lead can harm a child’s brain, kidneys and other organs. High levels in the blood can cause coma, convulsions and death.

Most cases of lead poisoning are handled by tracking and removing the lead source, and monitoring the children to make sure lead levels stay down. Often, children who get lead poisoning live in old homes that are dilapidated or under renovation. Lead has been banned in household paint since 1978 and was gone from gasoline by the late 1980s.

After lowering the standard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went back and looked at old blood tests from 1,653 children younger than 6 to determine how many would have lead poisoning under the new definition. About 3 percent of them — or about 50 kids — had blood lead levels higher than the new threshold of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Using that result, CDC officials calculated that an estimated 535,000 young children have lead poisoning.

A year ago, when the threshold was 10 micrograms, experts estimated that somewhere between 77,000 and 255,000 young kids had high levels of lead.

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