Lead poisoning in Maine

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Why This Indicator Matters

Why it is important
According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. There is no safe level of lead in a person’s blood. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. CDC fact sheet on elevated lead levels in children 

Maine law implemented in June 2019 requires blood lead tests for all children at 1 and 2 years of age.
The latest federal CDC guidelines reduced the blood reference value (BLRV)—the measure used to determine when interventions are needed—from 5 μg/dL to 3.5 μg/dL as even lower levels are now understood as unsafe. 

What the data shows
In Maine, in 2020, 1.9% of Maine children ages 0 -36 months tested for blood lead were found to have a venous blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or higher.  Since 2003, there has been a steady decrease in the number of children identified with lead poisoning, from 1,194 in 2003, to 586 in 2008, 399 in 2013 to 2020 when there were an estimated 272 children ages 0 - 3 with a blood lead level at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL). 

 In 2020, 14,148 children ages 0 -36 months were screened, up from 12,538 the year before. and of that number, approximately 1.9% tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. More lead screenings, even during the first year of the pandemic in 2020 is laudable.

At a county level, in 2020, the counties with the highest rates of lead poisonings were: Somerset and Washington, both at 3.5% of children ages 0-3 who were tested. four counties in 2020 had less than 5 children with lead poisoning. These were: Hancock, Lincoln, Piscataquis and Sagadahoc. Aroostook County was missing records.

Towns with high rate of screenings that were positive for lead poisoning from 2016-2020 included: Guilford (24.1%), Milo (14.2%), and Cornish (12.4%) showing that it is not just housing in the most urban areas that present risks.

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Definitions: Children can be given a blood test to measure the level of lead in their blood. If a venous blood lead level is at or above 5 ug/dL it is an elevated blood lead indicative of lead poisoning. The estimated number of children with a blood lead level ≥5 ug/dL is the number with confirmed tests plus 38% of the children with unconfirmed 5-<10 ug/dL tests. The percent of lead poisoning reflects the number of children in the county ages 0-<36 months with elevated blood lead levels among the number screened.

Data Source: Maine Center for Disease Control, Maine Tracking Network

Footnotes: The Maine data for the number of children with lead poisoning does not yet reflect the new federal guidance that a blood level of 3.5 μg/dL, not 5.0 μg/dL, requires treatment.  FMI see:  Federal CDC blood level reference value.

 Updated October 2022.