Building and sustaining healthy environments is one of government’s core responsibilities to its citizens. All children deserve such environments, no matter where they live, learn and play in our state. The number of children with elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) has dropped significantly in the past several decades. Despite this extraordinary success, disparities persist as certain vulnerable populations- like children living below the federal poverty level, children living in older housing, non-Hispanic blacks, Mexican Americans, immigrants, and refugees- are disproportionately affected.
In 2021, the CDC updated its elevated blood lead level (EBLL) reference value to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) based on continuing research which has led to a better understanding of poor health outcomes in children due to this environmental toxin at even lower levels than previously understood.
Lead is a toxin formerly found in gasoline, paint and other household items. While lead is much less commonly found in home and work environments, lead poisoning still presents a major health concern and requires careful vigilance to prevent, because lead can't be seen, tasted or smelled. Exposure to lead can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, kidney damage, mental development delays, comas and even death. Lead poisoning can affect anyone, but children are affected the most due to vulnerabilities in their developing brains and bodies.
Work of the last several decades has resulted in a significant drop in the number of children with elevated blood lead levels. Despite the extraordinary success, disparities persist, with those disproportionately affected including children living below the federal poverty level, children living in older housing, non-Hispanic blacks, Latinos, immigrants and refugees. Over 46% of all Delaware children tested who had high blood lead levels between 2010 and 2017 lived in the City of Wilmington.
The best way to reduce childhood lead poisoning is by focusing on primary prevention, which entails removing lead hazards from the environment before a child is exposed. Early identification is a second-best strategy to reducing impact of environmental lead contaminants to children’s health. Health departments accomplish this using blood lead screening tests.
In 2021, the Delaware General Assembly updated the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act which now mandates lead screening of all children at or around 12 months of age and again at 24 months of age.
To minimize the adverse effects of lead poisoning, it is essential that testing rates increase so no child is left undiagnosed and any child with an EBLL is treated early.