[author: Alison Beanum]
For the first time in more than 20 years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May revised its threshold for diagnosing lead poisoning in children. Adopting the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (ACCLPP), the CDC cut in half the amount of lead that will trigger protective action by doctors, health departments and parents. Now, any child with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in his or her blood will meet the standard for lead poisoning. (The old standard was 10 micrograms per deciliter.) Lowering the threshold means, in effect, that the nationwide population of patients found to have lead poisoning will increase from about 250,000 to about 442,000.
While lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 (and household dust generated therefrom) is the most common source of lead exposure, other potential sources of exposure continue to exist, including lead-contaminated soil, children’s toys manufactured overseas, drinking water, and air emitted from some industrial sites.
In adopting its new guidelines, the CDC relied primarily upon a January 2012 report issued by the ACCLPP. In this report, the ACCLPP reviewed and summarized findings from a growing body of scientific studies associating lead exposure with adverse health effects, including IQ deficits, reduced academic performance, and increased incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The ACCLPP’s report also concluded that the dangerous health effects of lead exposure appear to be irreversible.
Importantly, however, the report mentioned the challenges in obtaining accurate blood lead level (BLL) readings at such low levels, and that the margins of testing errors can be significant. The report also acknowledged that there are many factors, other than BLL, affecting the cognitive development of children, such as the increase in poverty rates, childhood obesity and diabetes.
As the number of patients officially deemed at risk of lead poisoning increases, so too does the pool of potential litigants. Armed with the ACCLPP’s report and the CDC’s new guidelines, these claimants will have more ammunition to argue that there is “no safe level” of exposure to lead, even where previous testing revealed low but measurable BLLs. Additionally, claimants will likely cite to the ACCLPP’s conclusion that the adverse health effects of lead exposure are “irreversible” to support their claim for future damages.
A complete copy of the ACCLPP’s report, and the CDC’s response thereto, can be found here.