Pediatric health experts applaud the recommendation of the U.S. advisory panel. UU. to reduce the toxic threshold for lead exposure in children.
Lead, a metal that was once common in gasoline and paint for homes, can permanently damage the developing brain.
On Wednesday, the Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning voted to recommend that the federal government changed the standard for lead poisoning of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood at 5 micrograms. This was the first time in over two decades that the panel recommended reducing levels.
“We are happy to finally have a breakthrough,” said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Poisoning Lead (Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning). “It must be long. Science has been available.”
Existing guidelines are given to parents and physicians a false sense of security that children are safe from danger, said Norton.
If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of USA. UU. adopt the recommendation of the panel, up to a million children could be diagnosed with lead poisoning, compared with the 250,000 current, said Dr. John Rosen, a professor of pediatrics and director of the environmental sciences division at Children’s Hospital Medical Center Montefiore in the city of New York.
“It was time that the CDC changed its definition of childhood lead poisoning from 10 to 5 [micrograms per deciliter of blood],” said Rosen. “10 was established twenty years ago, and there are at least twenty articles that demonstrate unequivocally that there are adverse effects of lead on IQ and intellectual development and cognitive blood levels of 5 to 9”.
Although lead-based paint was banned from housing in 1978, this type of deteriorating paint in homes is still the main source of lead poisoning among children today, Rosen lamented.
Lead is also found in some art supplies and toys, old painted toys, pipes and faucets of homes, certain equipment from hobbies and miniature lead figures. The metal can enter the bodies of the children if they touch these items and put their fingers in their mouth or swallow items.
Damage from lead exposure are irreversible. “It affects memory, learning to sit, listen and learn in school, abstract thinking, planning, organization, communication skills and fine motor skills,” said Rosen.
Dr. Vikas Kapil, medical director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, said it will be several months before the CDC decided to accept or reject the committee’s recommendation.
“We have studied the issue of lead levels in children for some time,” said Kapil. In 2005, the CDC asked the committee to determine if a change was necessary, but at that time there was insufficient evidence to recommend a change, he said.
“We ask the committee to make a new observation at the end of 2010 and the recent recommendation is the result,” he added. “There is a growing body of evidence that blood lead levels below 10 are associated with adverse health effects in children. We do not want doctors consider 10 as a safe level.”
National Institutes of Health, USA. UU. recently supported similar recommendations on blood lead levels, said Kapil.
If the CDC adopt it, the new standard would require public health departments and housing across the country to improve code enforcement and focus on the only cure for lead poisoning, which is the primary, said Norton. “There is no medicine or treatment that will reverse the impact of lead poisoning,” he added.
The problem of lead paint has persisted for decades, these experts lamented.
“You will not be final until a federal order to completely eliminate lead from all housing before the 60’s,” said Rosen. He emphasized that only a licensed contractor to remove lead from housing as required by law to do the job.
The current strategy to protect children from lead paint is ineffective, said Rosen. “Currently, the method is to paint over lead based paint and modify the home so that no paint chips or obvious lead paint dust in housing,” he said. “I call it the Band-Aid approach.”