Window replacement reduces lead paint risks

A worker replaces windows in older home to reduce risks of young children being exposed to lead paint dust and flakes. (October 25, 2013)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $30,000 to help educate Baltimore families about the risks to young children of lead poisoning, which despite progress made in reducing exposure over the years still affects nearly 3,000 youngsters across Maryland.

Shawn Garvin, EPA's Mid-Atlantic regional administrator, announced the grant Thursday at a press conference marking National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. The funds go to Green & Healthy Home Initiative, the new name for the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

The Maryland Department of the Environment announced last month that the number of lead-poisoned children in the state had fallen to a new low of 364 last year.

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year declared that the old threshold for defining lead poisoning was no longer valid because of research showing there is no safe level of exposure to the toxic metal, which can cause lasting learning and behavioral problems. 

The CDC said health officials and providers ought to expand their efforts to encompass all children with as little lead in their systems as 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, half the old threshold.

Under the new CDC guideline, about 2,700 Maryland youngsters had harmful levels of lead in their blood last year.  The vast majority are in Baltimore city, which has a large stock of older housing containing lead-based paint, the primary source of exposure.  Lead paint was banned in the city in 1950 and nationwide in 1978.

“It is too early to declare victory in our fight to end childhood lead poisoning,” Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, said in a statement released Thursday.

In a statement last month in response to the MDE report, Norton had chided state officials for focusing on the old definition of lead poisoning and glossing over  She also noted that testing children at risk for exposure to lead had slipped, with only 33 percent of city youngsters checked last year.

Despite the CDC recommendation to expand the focus on lead poisoning, the agency's funding to help communities like Baltimore identify and assist youngsters exposed to lead paint has been slashed.