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BALTIMORE, MD (October 4, 2012) - The number of Maryland children with test results showing they were poisoned by lead continued to decrease last year, but the percentage of new lead poisoning cases linked to homes that had not been covered by Maryland’s 1994 lead law continued to grow, a report released today by the Maryland Department of the Environment shows. Legislation passed earlier this year is designed to reduce lead poisoning cases in homes that had not been covered under Maryland law.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has released the 2011 Maryland Childhood Lead Registry Annual Surveillance Report. The report shows that the percentage of tested young children with blood levels at or above the level that triggers actions under state law dropped to 0.4 percent. This is the lowest percentage ever recorded in annual surveying that began in 1993, the year before Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Law was enacted. The figures also represent a decrease of more than 98 percent in the percentage of young children reported to have lead poisoning since 1993.
Maryland’s 1994 lead law applies to rental units built before 1950. Statewide, more than 60 percent of cases of an initial report of lead poisoning involved children living in post-1949 rental housing or owner-occupied housing. Legislation passed in the 2012 Maryland General Assembly session and signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley is designed to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in these newer rental units and in owner-occupied properties.
Exposure to lead is the most significant and widespread environmental hazard for children in Maryland, and, according to the CDC, there is no safe level of blood lead. Children are at the greatest risk from birth to age six while their neurological systems are being developed. Exposure to lead can cause long-term neurological damage that may be associated with learning and behavioral problems and with decreased intelligence.
Among other data, the annual Childhood Lead Registry survey compiles all blood lead tests done on Maryland children up to 18 years of age, and provides blood lead test results to local health departments as needed for case management and planning. Only the data for children under the age of 6 years is used for review of the lead poisoning prevention effort. MDE has compiled this comprehensive assessment on statewide childhood blood lead screening since 1993.
Key statistics from the 2011 Childhood Lead Registry annual survey include:
House Bill 644, passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by Governor O’Malley allows MDE to seek delegation to administer a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that regulates renovations, repairs and painting in homes that were built before 1978, whether they are rental units or owner-occupied, and in pre-1978 facilities with young children. The rule requires contractors who do work on these properties to receive training and use safe work practices. The legislation also requires owners of rental properties built before 1978, when the use of lead paint was prohibited, to register these properties and take steps toward reducing the risk of lead poisoning beginning in January 2015. In addition, it raises the annual registration fee. Maryland’s lead law currently covers rental properties built before 1950, when lead paint was prohibited in Baltimore City.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had, since 1990, maintained the blood lead level of 10 mg/dL as the “level of concern.” In March 2012, the CDC adopted its Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention’s recommendation that eliminated the term “level of concern” (since there is no known safe blood lead level) and the recommendation of a new blood lead level “reference level” of 5 mg/dL, based on current lead levels in the population. In 2011, 2,129 Maryland children were identified with a first-time blood lead level in the range of 5 to 9 mg/dL.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reviewing public comments related to the management of childhood lead exposure in light of the recent revision. MDE is also considering new actions for affected properties that are home to children with blood lead levels in the 5-9 mg/dL range. These actions could include opening new cases, in the areas most at risk, to perform random, detailed inspections to determine the source of lead in the homes. MDE's objective is to prevent the rise of the blood lead level in as many of these children as possible by identifying and addressing properties that are not in compliance with the lead law.
“Through Maryland’s highly successful lead program we have reduced lead poisoning by more than 98 percent. But this disease is completely preventable. We cannot and will not let up in our work to eliminate childhood lead poisoning in our state."
“Working with our partners, including Baltimore City and the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, Maryland has made significant gains to protect our children, particularly those who live in older rental housing. But we must do more. Childhood lead poisoning can occur in any housing built before 1978. Legislation passed this year and signed into law will allow us to reach more children who might be affected by lead paint dust – and allow us to prevent more children from being poisoned in the first place.”
-- Robert M. Summers, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment
"Lead poisoning can rob children of their potential. There has been remarkable progress in Maryland over the past two decades, but there is still work to do. Continued progress depends on addressing at-risk housing, expanding efforts to prevent low-level exposure, and ensuring that children are appropriately screened and tested. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will continue to work with MDE and our partners to eliminate lead poisoning in Maryland."
-- Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
"Baltimore City remains committed to prevention efforts that have succeeded in significantly reducing the number of Baltimore City children exposed to lead over the past decade. The decline in numbers also reflects innovative partnerships between the health department, housing department and non-profit groups such as Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning."
-- Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Commissioner of Health for Baltimore City
“While we are heartened to see the continued decrease in the number of poisoning cases reported above 10ug/dL, it is clear there is much work to be done to educate the public on the impact of very low level poisoning and to debunk the myths about who is getting poisoned. We are seeing an increasing number of kids poisoned in homeowner occupied properties often because of unsafe renovation practices. We are hopeful that the new CDC Guidelines and the new legislation in Maryland will help attack this problem quickly, but its clear new resources will have to be invested to ensure success."
“Kids poisoned by lead are not only less likely to be able to read but have higher rates of violent behavior and are seven times more likely to drop out of school. All of this is very costly and unnecessary as lead poisoning is entirely preventable.”
-- Ruth Ann Norton, Executive Director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning
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