November 8th, 2021
DESPITE COVID-19 MONROE COUNTY EXCELS AT KEEPING CHILDREN SAFE FROM LEAD POISONING
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Earlier this year, healthcare providers nationwide were deeply concerned about a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showing that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 34% fewer children across the country had been tested for exposure to lead hazards. The Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning is happy to share recent data from the Monroe County Department of Public Health showing our community’s healthcare providers not only maintained but actually increased testing in 2020.
The number of children in Monroe County tested for lead in 2020 was 14,461 – an increase of 250 more children than in 2019. The total number of children with confirmed Elevated Blood Lead Levels (EBLLs) of 5-9 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) increased by about 10% in the county and by about 6% in the city. Of important and significant note, the number of children detected with confirmed EBLLs of 10 μg/dL or higher decreased by roughly 45% in the county and an estimated 42% in the city.
“Local health care professionals’ ability to maintain such high rates of blood lead testing despite the added workload of the COVID-19 pandemic is truly impressive. This speaks to the close collaboration between medical providers, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, and the Coalition’s Screening & Professional Education Committee, which works closely with insurers, health systems, and medical providers to promote blood lead testing. The tireless dedication and professionalism, under tremendous pressure, of our health care professionals to keep children safe and healthy is something of which we can be enormously proud. We owe them a deep debt,” said Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza. “Many employees of the Department of Public Health were reassigned to work related to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the department continued to keep lead level testing a priority during this time resulting in the increased rates of testing. This increase is also partially attributed to a new system for tracking testing rates.”
The considerable decrease in EBLLs of >10 μg/dL is something to celebrate. In 2019, the New York State Department of Health lowered its reference value of what constitutes an EBLL from >10 μg/dL to >5 μg/dL, in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is likely that, due to this change, cases of lead poisoning were caught earlier leading to the reduction of those higher-level lead poisoning cases. Last month during National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, the CDC announced its updated reference value for EBLL to be >3.5 μg/dL, lowering it even further in recognition that there is no safe level of lead.
“Despite the pandemic, the City of Rochester was able to enact a COVID-19 response to housing inspections by working with landlords to correct health and safety violations, including lead,” said Kurt Martin, Director of Buildings and Zoning at the City of Rochester. “Our inspectors worked diligently, under very difficult situations, to keep rental properties safe for all tenants.”
Co-chair of CPLP’s Screening & Professional Education Committee and Director of WNY Lead Poisoning Resource Center, Dr. Stanley Schaffer said, “Keeping our community healthy has been a critically important task this year. Pediatric blood lead level testing remains a priority as well as continuing to educate our patients, collaborating and supporting our colleagues, and working to prevent lead poisoning before it occurs.” This education is especially important given the added fears surrounding public health and the pandemic. One mother shared, “As a parent, I had to make so many important decisions to keep my children safe this year. I knew that blood lead level testing was a priority because of the long-term effects of lead poisoning.”
“We are in awe and truly grateful for the nearly herculean effort by our country and city professionals, in the face of responding to COVID-19, to keep families safe from the permanent and devastating impacts of lead paint poisoning” said Mel Callan, a Family Nurse Practitioner and Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning Chair. “The earlier we can catch cases of lead poisoning, the better. Testing at ages one and two is one of many actions we need to take to protect children from lead poisoning. Educating everyone including parents, homeowners, contractors, and health professionals on best practices and the latest research is a critical part of creating a lead-free community.”
The recent data from Monroe County underscores how important it is to educate the community on how to prevent exposure to lead hazards. The Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning will continue its work by sharing information, resources, and community events on our Facebook page, just as it has for the past 20 years. To learn more visit www.theleadcoalition.org or call 585-224-3125.