Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

Exposure to lead continues to poison young children in the United States. Estimates based on data from 1999 through 2002 indicate that 310,000 U.S. children between the ages of one and five remain at risk for exposure to harmful lead levels. The U.S. estimated prevalence rate (total number of cases out of the total number screened) is 1.6% for children in this age group. However, blood lead levels (BLLs) remain higher for certain populations, especially children in minority populations, children from low-income families, and children who live in older homes. Lead exposure can cause devastating and irreversable effects.

From 1999-2003 more than 1,500 of the 29,000 St. Louis City children younger than age 6 were poisoned by lead each year. The good news is that lead poisoning is entirely preventable. In 2003, Mayor Francis G. Slay introduced the “Comprehensive Action Plan to Eliminate Childhood Lead Poisoning in St. Louis”. This plan focuses on prevention of childhood lead poisoning. By 2007 the progress from the plan helped the City reach its first important goal: to cut childhood lead poisoning in half in four years.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the blood lead level of concern from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5 micrograms. At the time of the introduction of the Mayor’s plan, 34.5% of St. Louis City children younger than 6 years of age had blood lead levels of 5 micrograms or greater and 13.6% of children measured at 10 micrograms or greater. In 2013, only 9.3% of children received test results of 5 micrograms and only 2.0% of children had blood lead levels of 10 micrograms. This represents a 73% decrease in the 5 microgram level and a 85% decrease in the 10 microgram level.