In an important shift, the CDC cut in half the amount of lead that will trigger medical monitoring and other actions in children ages 1 to 5. It's the first time in more than 20 years that the CDC has revised its action level on lead poisoning.
Now any child with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood will be considered at risk. This afternoon, the CDC said the new guidelines increase the patient population nationwide to about 442,000 from about 77,000 using the latest available data. (The CDC had previously said about 250,000 were affected under the current standard.)
The new levels come with a huge caveat. The CDC doesn't "have the funding, staff or control over the means to implement" them, it said in a statement. "A commitment to implement actions cannot be made due to our lack of control over available resources."
The CDC's funding for lead-poisoning prevention was slashed 94% this year by Congress, from $29 million in fiscal year 2011 to $2 million. The CDC is reducing staff in its Lead Poisoning Prevention Program from 26 to six full-time employees.
John Belt of the Ohio Department of Health said his funding for lead prevention programs "went from $1.3 million to $594,000 and then from $594,000 to zero."
According to the CDC, lead poisoning mainly comes from flaking paint or dust from paint that was applied before 1978, when lead was banned from house paint. Young children are of particular risk because they put so many things into their mouths. Parents can prevent lead poisoning by testing home surfaces for lead, keeping dusty or peeling paint away from play areas, and having children's lead levels checked regularly by a pediatrician.
Image: Paint flaking from window, via Shutterstock.