CDC Lowers Lead-Level Limits in Children

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Up to 365,000 children in USA will be considered at risk for lead poisoning under new guidelines set out on May 15, 2012, by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the first time in 20 years, the CDC has revised its level on lead poisoning cutting in half the amount of lead that will be medically monitored in children from ages 1 to 5.  Now any child with more than 5 micrograms per decilitre of lead in their blood will be considered at risk.

"It's about time…paediatricians will be on the alert about the enormous impact that a blood lead-level of 5 can have on a child's life and future academic success," says John Rosen, a professor of paediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. 

High lead-levels in young children can affect their cognitive and behavioural development, cause learning disabilities, seizures and even death in some cases.  The effects of lead exposure are greatest in unborn children and those under five years of age who are most susceptible.

This new lead-level guideline comes with a rather copious caveat because the CDC does not have the funding, staff or control to implement any actions.  Congress slashed their funding for Lead Poisoning Prevention by 94% this year, from $29 million in 2011 to $2 million; and they are reducing staff from 26 to 6 full-time employees dedicated to Lead Poisoning Prevention.

About 250,000 children have high lead-levels using the old standard", said Christopher Portier, the Director of the agency's National Center for Environmental Health.

"Any lead is too much lead…there's no good treatment.  Prevention is the only way to make sure kids are growing up to their fullest abilities, so they're not impaired from a neurological standpoint."

Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director, Occupational Knowledge International
November 2012

This new standard would represent a shift in policy to a public health approach.  "The idea would be…to target their homes and their communities to try to find what those sources of lead are, and remove them from the environment so the child won't get higher lead levels, and new children coming into the neighbourhood won't receive those lead levels", said Dr. Portier.  He went on to say that enforcement would be up to other federal agencies as well as states and municipalities.

Children can be exposed to lead from a variety of sources – lead-based paint in homes built before 1978, homes with lead plumbing, lead-contaminated soil around old and unused factory sites, lead gasoline emissions, imported lead crystal ware, and toys and jewellery brought in from other countries that avoided import and export inspection.

Lead Levels in Canada

According to a 2009 report by Health Canada, blood lead levels of Canadian children are less than 10 micrograms per decilitre (ug/dl), and there are very few documented cases of lead poisoning in Canada that require intervention.  Higher blood lead levels have been observed in areas where there are unusual sources of lead exposure, i.e. ongoing problem of soil contamination from a smelter.

Health Canada has reviewed its current policy and will issue new guidance levels shortly. 

Please click on Lead Information Package to obtain more information from Health Canada.

Arsenic, Lead and Cadmium Found in Swedish Baby Food

Two years ago Swedish research company Testfakta reported that children's porridge products made by Nestlé, Semper, Hipp and EnaGo contain potentially dangerous levels of heavy metals and today they still contain traces of the same poisonous substances.  They stated that just three portions a day of one particular product would be enough to reach lead levels that could affect a child's brain development, suggesting a link between lower IQ rates and high consumption of lead.

The National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) issued a statement to parents telling them that the levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium found in the 14 tested products were not high enough to involve any acute risks - they would only pose a risk, if consumed beyond childhood and for the rest of one's life. 

Kristina Kallur, CEO of EnaGo said, "We perform regular checks to ensure that we follow all the guidelines, but now we have to continue searching for alternative raw materials.  It is an immense challenge to find ingredients that are both free from heavy metals and work from an allergy point of view."  Kristina Kallur was surprised to learn that the company's products contain more heavy metals than the other ones tested by Testfakta.

The National Food Agency is conducting its own research into heavy metals in foods and says it is impossible to completely remove harmful substances from food products because they occur naturally in water and earth that is absorbed by plants.  They recommend that you give your children a varied diet using different brands of products.

Steps Parents Can Take

  • Children can be tested by paediatricians, family physicians or local health departments to measure the lead-level in their blood and make a point of asking for your child's exact blood lead-level and don’t accept a vague report that states 'normal' or 'negative'.
  • Have everyone take their shoes off at the door to prevent tracking of contaminated soil inside your home. The CDC advises that you wet mop the floors and wet wipe surfaces especially window ledges that contain dust from windswept contaminated soil.
  • If you live in a city, do not let your children play in soil. Laying down a thick layer of sod or mulch can reduce their exposure to lead dust in soil.  As a safety precaution, consider replacing the contaminated soil with clean dirt.
  • Teach your children to wash their hands especially after playing outdoors.
  • Eating good nutritious foods can protect your children from the effects of lead exposure; and children who do not get enough calcium and iron in their diet absorb more lead.
  • Lead poisoning is defined as blood levels above 45 micrograms per decilitre of blood and at that level in young children…"their life is at risk, they need to be seen clinically, and interventions absolutely need to be taken immediately," says Dr. Portier.

Children who do not get enough calcium and iron in their diet absorb more lead. 

Protect your children from the effects of lead exposure by providing them with nutritional food. 

Chelation therapy involves the ingestion of chemicals that bind to lead so it can be excreted from the body but this method is reserved only for children who have blood lead-levels over 45.  There is no treatment beyond removing the child's exposure to lead.  "The new levels are important not just for children in the USA but internationally because many nations use CDC benchmarks as their own," says Perry Gottesfeld.

Recently NBC reported that the Department of Toxic Substances Control in California is cracking down on 16 businesses accused of selling and distributing inexpensive costume jewellery that contains dangerous lead levels – some more than 1,000 times the legal state limit.  Children's jewellery such as hair clips, tiaras, necklaces, and earrings cannot contain lead exceeding

600 parts per million.  For adult jewellery, the limit is 60,000 parts per million.  Investigators found a pair of children's earrings shaped like a teddy bear that had lead levels 900 times the legal limit. 

Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children's Health and Safety Association - October 8, 2013 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019

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