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Child Lead Poisonings Fell In NYC Last Year

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The number of children with lead poisoning dropped by 19% in New York City last year, the Health Department announced today in its' annual report (PDF) to the New York City Council. In 2008, there were 1,572 newly identified poisonings among children between 6 months and 6 years of age, marking a 92% decline since 1995, when nearly 20,000 lead poisoning cases were reported.

“The new number marks a new low for New York City,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “But it also shows that childhood poisoning remains a serious, preventable health problem. Lead paint is the main cause of lead poisoning, and young children are most at risk. It’s critically important that landlords safely repair peeling lead paint in homes with young children. It’s also the law.”

Lead poisoning can cause learning and behavior problems, even at low levels. Lead poisoning is defined as a blood lead level containing 10 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (ug/dL). State law requires doctors to test children at one and two years of age, because those with elevated blood-lead levels may not show clinical symptoms.

During 2008, 536 children under 18,including 446 children between the ages of six months and six years, were newly identified with blood lead levels of 15 ug/dL or higher. When a child is diagnosed with lead poisoning at this level (known as the Environmental Intervention Blood Lead Level, or EIBLL), the Health Department actively assesses lead paint sources in the child’s environment, orders landlords to repair hazards in a safe and timely manner, and works with families and health care providers to reduce the child’s exposure. The Health Department has seen a 14% decline in these EIBLL cases since 2007 (when the total was 620), and a 69% since 1995 (when the total was 1,709).

Despite notable progress, the 2008 findings show that children of color still suffer disproportionately from lead poisoning. Last year, 85% of children identified with lead poisoning were black, Hispanic or Asian. While Hispanic and black children accounted for most new cases, the proportion of Asian children in the EIBLL case group are overrepresented compared to the overall population of Asian children in New York City. Asian children diagnosed with lead poisoning in New York City tend to be older than affected children of other races, and they are more likely to be born outside the United States. In addition to lead paint hazards in the home, these children may have also been exposed to lead paint in other countries, and to products containing lead such as cosmetics, herbal medicines, foods and pottery.

Health Department Prevention Efforts

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The Health Department targets high-risk neighborhoods for education and outreach. Working with families, health care providers and community-based organizations, the agency conducts hundreds of workshops each year. The Health Department also participates in community health fairs, providing information on ways to keep homes safe and healthy. Informational materials are available in multiple languages including English, Spanish, Bengali, Chinese, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, French, Haitian Creole and Russian.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Protect their Children from Lead Poisoning

* Report peeling paint to your landlord. Landlords are required to fix peeling paint in homes where young children live. If your landlord does not respond, call 311.

* Remind your doctor to test your child for lead poisoning at one and two years of age. Ask the doctor about testing older children who may be at risk of lead exposure.

* Wash floors, windowsills, hands, toys and pacifiers often.

* Don’t use foods, spices, medicines, pots, dishes, cosmetics or toys known to contain lead.

* Use only cold tap water for making baby formula and for drinking and cooking. Run the water for a few minutes before using it.