Study Shows Decline in Lead Poisoning Among Maryland Kids

Fewer Maryland children were found to have elevated blood lead levels, although six counties had small increases, according a recently released state study.

Of the 99,148 children tested last year, 1.3 percent had elevated blood lead levels, compared to 1.7 in 2004, according to a report released last week by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Increases in the six counties were small, said Alvin Bowles, program manager for the lead poisoning and prevention program for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Baltimore County, for example, had 110 cases, two more than last year.

Increased enforcement of Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing law, “increased awareness by parents and property owners of the hazards of lead exposure and improved maintenance of rental housing” were credited by the report for the drop.

“The trend that we’ve had for the last 10 to 12 years is continuing,” said Bowles. “We’re finding that less children are having elevated blood levels, and that’s good news.”

Lead poisoning in children, caused by ingestion of lead in paint chips, dust or water, can cause developmental problems and even death.

In Baltimore, where most of the cases are concentrated, there was a 28 percent decrease in the number of children whose tests turned up 10 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in 2005, compared with the previous year. And the number of children with 20 micrograms or more, dropped 52 percent.

“I think it’s definitely a sign of continued progress for the city, but we still have a lot of kids getting poisoned,” said city Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein. “So it’s not ‘mission accomplished.”’

Of Baltimore’s 53,626 children under the age of 6, 17,943 were tested last year.

The city is now shifting resources to prevention, the health commissioner said.

“Our hope is to identify the places that families are moving into and getting improvements in those places before kids are exposed to lead,” Sharfstein said.

Ruth Ann Norton, director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore, cautioned that funding and enforcement must continue.

“The question is now, ‘How do we get all of us to stay focused so we can finish this?”’ she said.