Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (September 20, 2011) – The number of Maryland children with test results showing they were poisoned by lead continued to decrease last year, but a growing percentage of new lead poisoning cases are linked to homes not covered by the state's law, a report released today by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) shows.

According to MDE's annual statewide Childhood Lead Registry, the percentage of tested children with elevated blood lead levels dropped to less than one half of one percent statewide. The statistics show that more Maryland children were tested in 2010 for lead poisoning and fewer were poisoned by lead than in any year since figures have been collected. They also reflect a decrease of 98 percent in the percentage of children reported to have lead poisoning since 1993, the year before Maryland's Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Law was enacted.

However, the percentage of tested children with lead poisoning showed only a slight decrease compared to the prior year, and MDE's review shows that children with elevated blood lead levels are more likely to live in homes not covered by Maryland's lead law. The report shows that more than 60 percent of Maryland children testing positive for the first time for blood poisoning in 2010 lived in homes other than pre-1950 rental units, which are covered by Maryland's lead law. The comparable figure for 2009 was 54 percent.

MDE is providing staff support for the work of a study group that is evaluating ways to fight lead poisoning in owner-occupied properties and rental properties not covered by Maryland's law but built before lead-based paint was banned in the late 1970s. Among the options being weighed by the group are ways to prevent lead poisoning in owner-occupied properties or rental properties not covered by the state's 1994 law or whether Maryland should seek the authority to enforce a federal rule applying to renovations and other work done at properties that might contain lead-based paint.

"Maryland's program to combat lead poisoning has been a tremendous success. Working with our local and community partners, including Baltimore City and the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, Maryland has made significant gains to protect our children, particularly those who live in older rental housing. However, we must do more," said MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers. "Reducing exposure to lead paint dust is the core of our program to prevent lead poisoning. Childhood lead poisoning can occur in any housing built before 1978. We are working to find ways to reach more children who might be affected by lead paint dust – and we are working to prevent more children from being poisoned in the first place."

Key statistics from the 2010 Childhood Lead Registry annual survey include:

  • Statewide, 114,829 children under the age of 6 years were tested, which is an increase over the 2009 figure of 107,416. In Baltimore City, 19,702 children were tested, an increase from 19,043 in 2009.
  • 531 children (or slightly less than 0.5 percent) had an elevated blood lead level (EBL), which by law is 10 micrograms per deciliter or above. This is lower than the 553 (0.5 percent) in 2009. In Baltimore City, 314 children (1.6 percent) had an EBL, which is down from 347 (1.8 percent) in 2009.
  • Of the EBL cases statewide for 2010, 399 were cases in which a child tested with an EBL for the first time.
  • 60.1 percent of the children statewide with a first venous EBL lived in homes other than pre-1950 residential rental units, compared to 54 percent in 2009. The similar figure for Baltimore City for 2010 was 40.3 percent, compared to 40 percent in 2009.

MDE's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program serves as the coordinating agency of statewide efforts to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.

Exposure to lead is the most significant and widespread environmental hazard for children in Maryland, and according to the Center for Disease Control, there is no safe level of blood lead. Children are at the greatest risk from birth to age six while their neurological systems are being developed. Exposure to lead can cause long-term neurological damage that may be associated with learning and behavioral problems and with decreased intelligence.

Among other data, the annual Childhood Lead Registry survey compiles all blood lead tests done on Maryland children up to 18 years of age, and provides blood lead test results to local health departments as needed for case management and planning. Only the data for children under the age of 6 years is used for review of the lead poisoning prevention effort. MDE has compiled this comprehensive assessment on statewide childhood blood lead screening since 1993.

Lead paint dust from deteriorated lead paint or from renovation is the major source of exposure for children in Maryland. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2005-2009 American Community Survey there are 364,600 residential houses built before 1950 and 864,400 houses built between 1950 and 1978. In Maryland a significant number of housing units have been made lead free. For those that have not been made lead free, there is a 95 percent chance of lead paint in pre-1950 units and a 75 percent chance of lead paint in pre-1979 units.

Water, air, and soil, may provide low-level, "background" exposure, but rarely causes childhood lead poisoning. Imported products, parental occupations, hobbies, and imported traditional medicines occasionally cause lead exposure among children.

Maryland is taking steps to further protect Maryland children from lead paint poisoning. A bill passed by the General Assembly earlier this year modifies the requirements of Maryland's lead program by requiring owners of pre-1950 rental properties to obtain a passing "dust test" for each rental unit and ensure that any chipping, peeling, or flaking paint is removed or repainted at the time of turn over. Currently, affected property owners are given the choice of obtaining a dust test or showing that they undertook remediation, but improperly done remediation can either fail to remove hazards or, in some cases, worsen them.

The bill also established a study group to evaluate such issues as the fee structure for rental property registration under the Maryland lead law and ways to prevent lead poisoning in owner-occupied properties or rental properties not covered by the state's 1994 law. That study group – composed of legislators, health and children advocates, rental property owners, real estate agents, city and state officials, members of the Governor's Lead Commission, and lead abatement contractors – is to present its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 31, 2011.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that went into effect last year added requirements to prevent lead poisoning when work is done on homes built before the late 1970s and other facilities occupied by young children. The EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule applies to anyone receiving compensation for renovating, repairing, and painting work that disturbs painted surfaces in pre-1978 residences and to anyone performing similar work on facilities built prior to 1978 and occupied by children under the age of 6. Those affected by the rule are required to: apply to EPA to be approved as a Certified Renovation Firm; receive necessary training and certification from an EPA-accredited training provider for Lead Safe Work Practices; assign a Certified Renovator to be present at each project; and ensure that lead safe work practices are used throughout the project.

Various lead paint inspection services are available to homeowners to identify lead paint or to evaluate lead paint hazards. MDE's website provides information on accredited inspection contractors. Homeowners may do some limited testing, but information provided by a trained and accredited inspector will generally be more complete and definitive.

MDE's website also provides information on lead paint abatement services.

Anyone who removes lead paint or who conducts any other maintenance or home improvement activity that creates a hazard by disturbing lead paint should follow the safe practices that are included in Maryland Lead Paint Abatement Regulations. Safety precautions can be found on MDE's website. EPA recommends that anyone planning a "do-it-yourself" renovation project call the National Lead Information Center  at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) and ask for more information on how to work safely in a home with lead-based paint.

To view the childhood lead registry data online, and for more information about childhood lead poisoning prevention, visit the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program's webpage or call 410-537-3847.