Health Department Releases 2016 Childhood Lead Poisoning Surveillance Report
The City reports that the number of children with elevated blood lead levels continues to drop, while screening rates continue to climb. Poverty and age of housing were identified as the primary risk factors for elevated blood lead levels.
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Department of Public Health released the 2016 Childhood Lead Poisoning Surveillance Report, which details blood lead level screening rates, lead exposure rates, services provided in response to elevated blood lead levels, and risk factors for elevated blood lead levels. The Health Department found that in 2016 just 0.9% of Philadelphia children screened for lead poisoning had newly-identified venous blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 ug/dL. This is a marked drop from 2007, when 2.3% of Philadelphia children who were screened had venous blood levels greater than or equal to 10 ug/dL. Nearly three-quarters (74.9%) of Philadelphia children born in 2014 were screened by the time they were two years old, an increase over children born in 2013 (72.3%). Of children born in 2005, in contrast, only 57.6% were screen for elevated blood lead levels by two years of age.
“While fewer of the children in Philadelphia that are screened for lead are being found exposed to lead, there is obviously much more work to be done,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “Most important, homeowners and landlords need to assure that older homes do not have peeling or deteriorated paint, the main source of lead exposure for children.”
Even small amounts of lead can cause harm to the brain and other parts of children’s nervous system. Children who are exposed to lead can experience slow growth and development, damaged hearing and speech, behavior problems, and difficulty paying attention and learning. Children under the age of six are considered to be at the highest risk of lead exposure because they tend to put their hands in their mouths often and their developing neurological and digestive systems. Some of the health problems caused by lead may never go away, which is why it’s important to prevent a child from being exposed to lead in the first place. In June of 2017, the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group made a series of recommendations to further reduce lead levels in children, focusing primarily on limiting exposure to lead-containing paint.
Additional findings that the Health Department reported include that 2016 had the lowest number of children under six years of age with newly identified venous blood lead levels between 5-9 ug/dL ever, with 1,310 (or 3.4% of children screened). The Health Department also reported that 38,350 children under the age of six were screened for lead exposure in 2016. Nearly three-quarters (71.6%) of families eligible for Health Department services received an educational visit. The highest percentages of children with elevated blood lead levels continues to be found in zip codes of high poverty and housing stock built before 1950. These two risk factors are the best predictors of where children are most likely to be exposed to lead.
The Childhood Lead Poisoning Surveillance Report is an annual report prepared by the Lead and Healthy Homes Program in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and is available for download at http://www.phila.gov/health/childhoodlead/index.html.