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For Release:
August 05, 2003

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner

Childhood Lead Poisoning Screening Rates Increase and Elevated Lead Level Cases Decrease


TRENTON - More New Jersey children are being tested for lead poisoning, and fewer are showing elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to a New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services report.


Sixty-five percent of the state's two-year-olds have been tested at least once. However, New Jersey still falls short of the goal of testing all children twice by two years of age, according to Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey: Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2002.


"New Jersey continues to make progress in its efforts against this important public health problem which affects every county of the state," said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. "Parents and health care providers need to be educated and informed about the risks posed by lead. New Jersey’s children must be properly screened so that lead exposures can be identified and appropriate measures taken."


State regulations require that children be tested between nine and 18 months of age, and again between 18 and 29 months of age. However, children at high risk such as those living in older housing with peeling or chipping paint should be tested as early as six months of age. These testing schedules are the ideal; At a minimum, all children should be tested at least once before their third birthday.


The department has undertaken a number of initiatives to increase screening rates.


DHSS collaborated with the Department of Human Services and community groups to create pilot projects in Camden and Irvington. The projects are testing innovative ways to increase screening in the Medicaid population including conducting outreach to child care providers, encouraging on-the-spot lead screening in physician offices, and training nurses to educate parents of newborns about the importance of screening. When the projects are completed in December, the most successful strategies will be assessed for implementation statewide.


DHSS has also provided $220,000 to fund four regional lead poisoning prevention coalitions, which are developing local prevention education programs. With an additional $150,000 in DHSS funding, the coalitions are conducting public awareness campaigns this summer on lead poisoning prevention.


The lead report, which covers the period July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, outlines the state's progress in testing children and inspecting and abating housing where affected children live. For the first time, the report provides municipal data on percent of children tested and percent with elevated levels.


Also in this year's report, improvements in the lead testing database allowed the department to analyze multiple years of data to determine the cumulative effect of screening efforts. Based on three years of data, 72,199 children born between July 1999 and June 2000, or 65 percent of the state's two-year-olds, have been tested at least once.


Meanwhile, among children of all ages, 171,712 were tested in fiscal year 2002 compared with 149,233 in the prior year a 15 percent increase.


The total includes 89,460 children from six months of age to 29 months old, or 40 percent of the population in that age group. This is an increase over the previous year when 35 percent of children in this age group were tested. Among counties, Essex had the highest testing rate at 46 percent, and Burlington had the lowest at 22 percent. New Brunswick had the highest testing rate among cities (71 percent) followed by Passaic City (61 percent), Irvington (nearly 59 percent) and Newark (55 percent).


The percent of children with elevated blood levels declined 15 percent in fiscal year 2002 over the previous year. In 2002, 5,457 children, or 3.2 percent of those tested, had levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter, which is considered elevated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the previous year, 5,616 children, or 3.8 percent of those tested, had elevated levels.


The report also revealed a continued decrease in children tested with levels of 20 micrograms or greater a level where state regulation requires local health officials to investigate and order abatement of any lead hazards found in the child's environment. Of those tested, 934 children (0.5 percent) had levels of 20 micrograms or greater. All counties had at least one child with this blood lead level.


Health departments completed more inspections and abatements in fiscal year 2002 than in the previous year. Among the cases requiring inspection, 71 percent were completed within the fiscal year a significant improvement over the 62 percent in the year before. Thirty-seven percent of abatements were completed in FY02, compared with 28 percent. For all cases reported in the past six years, local health departments completed 93 percent of investigations and 78 percent of abatements.


The department currently provides $2.7 million in grants to 20 local health departments to support childhood lead poisoning activities. DHSS has also worked with the state Department of Community Affairs to make federal funding for abatement available in East Orange, Irvington and Paterson. The two state agencies continue to try to identify funding to help property owners with abatement costs.


The lead report is available on the department's website at: .

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