The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets a threshold for taking action in cases of elevated lead levels in children’s blood in such a way that the worst 2.5 percent of cases nationally require notice and treatment by local health officials. The current action level is 5 micrograms per deciliter, and officials are considering lowering the level to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. Since lead is not required for any metabolic purpose in humans it is desirable to minimize its presence.
There are some concerns about lowering the CDC’s action level. One is that many labs and test kits are not very accurate at the lower level so there would be an increase in both false positives and false negatives. Also, the resources for responding to high lead levels would be spread over a larger number of cases. The federal and state funds available to respond to an estimated 500,000 cases are already stretched thin. Some states still have not changed their standards to conform to the previous action level change, from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter.
It is possible that by seeking to take action on a greater number of cases the CDC recommendation could divert action from areas where local clusters of elevated levels of lead in children’s blood still persist. Limited resources for education, diagnosis, treatment and remediation would be spread more thinly in an inequitable way.
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