Chesapeake PSR

Why lead (Pb) still matters in Maryland

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

The Maryland General Assembly is considering a number of bills to improve efforts to reduce blood lead levels in children. These include bills to widen investigations into the causes of lead exposure, to broaden the authority of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to intervene and notify parents and landlords when elevated blood lead levels in a child are detected, to test school drinking water for lead levels, and to hold manufacturers of lead-based paint liable for harm caused by their products in residential buildings.

There is a scientific consensus that there is no safe level of lead in a person’s blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (5μg/dL) to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children's level. The effects of blood lead levels higher than 5 μg/dL include: (1) decreased academic achievement, (2) lower IQ scores, (3) attention-related problems, and (4) anti-social behaviors.

How bad is the lead problem in Maryland? In some parts of the state, pretty bad. While blood lead levels in Maryland children have dropped dramatically in the past 40 years, in 2015, 2,166 Maryland children between 0 and 72 months were tested with blood lead levels above 5μg/dL. The MDE estimates that 20.6 of children in that age group were tested.

The problem remains particularly acute in the poor, predominately African-American neighborhoods of inner city Baltimore. A review of lead testing data from MDE reveals that in many of these neighborhoods, as many as one in seven of the children tested had blood lead levels greater than 5μg/dL – that means greater developmental problems for those children and greater social problems in the neighborhoods. Read more about this issue here.

Please read Chesapeake PSR's comments on two of the lead bills. One concern we have is the state’s intervention level for notification of a child’s guardian and the property owner is set at 10 µg/dL. In our comments, we urged the state to adapt the CDC’s level 5 µg/dL as its intervention level.

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