Health Department Report Shows Dramatic Decline in New York State Childhood Lead Poisoning Cases

State Media Campaign to Target High Lead Level Areas to Help Build on Progress Made Over the Past Four Years

Albany, May 25, 2001 – The New York State Health Department today released the most comprehensive report on children's lead poisoning in State history. The report, "Protecting our Children from Lead: The Success of New York's Efforts to Prevent Childhood Lead Poisoning," looks at Zip code level data across the State and shows that in 1999, when compared to 1996, lead poisoning among children in New York State declined significantly.

The report shows that in New York State (excluding New York City) the number of newly identified children, ages six months to less than six years, with blood lead levels 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL) or greater dramatically declined by 45 percent from 6,096 in 1996 to 3,377 in 1999.

"Thanks to Governor Pataki's support of critical programs that help reduce lead poisoning in New York State, we have witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of lead poisoning cases among New York's children," State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M.D. M.P.H., Dr. P.H. said. "Our goal is to build on the success which we've seen over the last four years and to further reduce childhood lead poisoning in New York by working with physicians, landlords and parents about the dangers of lead poisoning and the importance of lead screening – which will be the focus of our statewide media campaign. "

"It is essential for states to identify areas of high incidence of elevated blood lead levels in children and take necessary preventive measures to reduce the risk to children living in those areas," Michael A. McGeehin, PhD, MSPH, Director, Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We commend New York for its comprehensive report and it should assist the work that the State and its local governments are doing to further reduce childhood lead poisoning."

"The Medical Society is highly encouraged by the findings of the report released by the New York State Department of Health, which show a significant decline in lead poisoning among children in New York State. Once again, we have taken a step in the right direction toward protecting some of our most vulnerable residents – our children," said Dr. Robert Bonvino, President of the Medical Society of the State of New York. "The findings of the report are very promising. The Medical Society of the State of New York and the nearly 30,000 physicians we represent stand ready to assist in these efforts in any way we can."

The report also outlines prevention and intervention activities and programs funded by the State to help reduce blood lead levels. It also outlines prospective steps the State will be taking to build on the progress that has been made over the four–year period covered in the report. New York City data is attached as an addendum and was prepared by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hyigene.

The report found that during the period of 1996 to 1999, the incidence rate of lead poisoning in a given year – children newly identified with lead poisoning – among children up to age six with blood lead levels of 20 ug/dL or greater dropped by 46 percent. During the same four–year period, the incidence rate for upstate New York children affected by elevated blood lead levels 10 ug/dL or greater, declined by 45 percent. Similar declines were observed in New York City.

The report also shows that nearly every county in the State had a decrease in lead poisoning prevalence – children who had high blood lead levels in that year or in previous years – with an overall decrease of 36 percent, based on blood lead levels of 10 ug/dL or higher.

In addition to releasing the lead report, Dr. Novello announced today that the State Health Department is engaged in a $200,000 media advertising campaign about lead poisoning, targeting predominantly older urban neighborhoods where blood lead levels remain high. To build on the public awareness of the media campaign, Dr. Novello will also send letters to physicians and health care providers across the State reiterating the requirement that children ages one and two be screened for lead poisoning.

New York State is among the leading states in the nation for screening for childhood lead poisoning. The New York State screening rate of children under two years of age for lead poisoning was on average 62 percent during 1996–99. In addition, among children enrolled in Medicaid managed care, childhood lead screening rates were 70 percent in 1998 and 74 percent in 1999.

Dr. Novello said, "This report highlights our successes in reducing childhood lead poisoning prevalence over the past four years and will help us target our outreach efforts to those communities with higher lead rates and low screening rates. Working with MSSNY and others this Department will continue to press for further improvements in childhood lead screening by communicating directly with health care providers."

Lead Poisoning Background

Lead is a common element in the environment that has no biological function; the human body has no need or use for it. Human interaction with lead in the environment is most dangerous to children under age six, because their nervous system is still forming. Young children are also at higher risk, because they tend to put their hands and other objects in their mouths, thereby introducing lead dust into their systems, and because their gastrointestinal systems absorb lead more efficiently than that of adults. Exposure to even small amounts of lead can contribute to behavioral problems and learning disabilities, and has been shown to lower intelligence.

New York State has the highest number of housing units built prior to 1950 in the nation. Of the more than seven million housing units in this State, 46.9 percent were built prior to 1950. It has been estimated that 75 percent of pre–1950 housing contains lead paint. Chipping and peeling paint is a risk to young children who exhibit normal hand to mouth activity. One and two year olds are at greatest risk. Lead is a toxic substance that causes damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, the circulatory system and kidneys.

Children with levels above 10 ug/dL can exhibit a decrease in intelligence. Persistent elevated levels may lead to hyperactivity, learning disabilities and behavioral difficulties. Most children will have no symptoms during exposure, and the only method to identify if the child has been exposed is to test the child's blood. Very high blood lead levels above 70 ug/dL can cause severe health problems, including seizures, coma and even death.

Highlights of the Lead Report

The statistics presented in the report (outside New York City) describe the level of screening for childhood lead poisoning accomplished in the State and provide information on the occurrence of elevated blood lead levels in New York's children for the years 1996 to 1999. The New York City Health department's report has been attached as an addendum.

Incidence Rate: Incidence is the proportion of all children screened in a given year who had a confirmed elevated blood lead level greater than 10 ug/dL in that same year.

  • In 1996, of all the children screened for lead, less than 3 percent had levels of 10 ug/dL or greater. In 1999, the number of children with 10 ug/dL or greater dropped to 1.90 percent.
  • The total number of New York children under six years of age that were affected by elevated blood lead levels 10 ug/dL or greater declined from 6,096 in 1996 to 3,377 in 1999 – a decrease of 45 percent.
  • The incidence of lead poisoning among children up to age six with blood lead levels of 20 ug/dL or greater dropped significantly from 1,111 in 1996 to 601 in 1999 – a 46 percent decline.

Prevalence Rate: Prevalence rate is defined as the proportion of all children tested in a given year, who have ever had a confirmed elevated blood level.

  • The lead report also shows that nearly every county in the State had a decrease in prevalence rate.
  • The prevalence among children who had high blood lead levels in that year or in previous years decreased by 36 percent to 10,717 in 1999, from 19,689 children in 1996 that had blood lead levels of 10 ug/dL or greater.

Zip Code Data: Geographic data in maps and tables are presented for the first time for the Zip codes with the highest new case rates (incidence).

  • In 1996, twenty–two Zip codes across the state had children with an incidence of blood lead levels 10 ug/dL or greater. In 1999, the number of Zip codes with children at those levels dropped to five.

Department Initiatives to Reduce Childhood Lead Poisoning

The New York State budget includes approximately $9 million in funding for programs that help reduce childhood lead poisoning, including more than $7.3 million each year to local health departments for lead poisoning prevention programs. In addition, $400,000 in funding is provided to support seven teaching hospital–based regional resource centers, and another $720,000 is provided to support local Interim Lead Safe Housing projects in the State's largest urban communities.

Education and Prevention

The Department will target those areas with the highest childhood lead incidence rates. While those areas often have the highest screening rates in the State, the Department will continue to target those areas in an effort to lower the lead blood levels even further.

Six Zip codes in three counties remained among the ten highest incidence Zip codes in all of the four years examined in the State lead report. The counties and Zip codes are:

  • Onondaga 13204, 13205
  • Erie 14208, 14211, 14212
  • Schenectady 12307

The children living in these Zip codes account for nearly 13 percent of the total number of children identified for the first time in 1999 with a confirmed blood lead level of 10 ug/dL or greater.

One of the ways the Department is targeting the high blood lead levels in urban neighborhoods is with a new $200,000 media campaign which features television and radio advertising. Leo the Lion, the State's lead prevention feline advocate is featured on the television ads emphasizing the importance of minimizing children's lead exposure. The campaign reminds parents and landlords how they can reduce lead hazards, such as removing accumulated paint chips in window sill areas when windows are opened after the winter season.

Building upon the success of the $1.2 million Healthy Neighborhoods Program, the Department will continue to fund efforts by local health departments to target neighborhoods where there is a high rate of children with elevated blood lead levels. The Healthy Neighborhoods Program has been performing primary lead poisoning activities – activities that are implemented before a child is exposed to lead – in five of the six identified high risk Zip codes. More than 32,000 dwellings have been assessed during 1996 – 1999 for lead hazards as a means of primary prevention, eliminating the source of exposure before it becomes a health concern.

Approximately 3,000 dwellings are investigated annually, in response to reports of children with elevated blood lead levels, to identify sources of lead exposure and to assure that lead hazards are corrected. The number of dwellings that were found to have lead hazards dropped to 2,440 in 1999 down from 3,649 in 1996, mirroring the overall decrease in children with elevated blood lead levels statewide.

Several thousand copies of a Department produced video, "The Trouble With Lead: Keeping Your Home and Family Safe," have been widely distributed to local health departments, schools, libraries, building supply stores, and the general public. The Department continues to work with the State Department of Education to reduce lead exposures in schools, including those exposures for students who participate in interscholastic riflery.

Additional information can be obtained by contacting the State Health Department's toll–free number at 1–800–456–1158, or by visiting our Web site at nyhealth.gov.

5/25/01–56 OPA