Patterns of childhood lead poisoning have changed substantially in the United States. The mean blood lead level has declined, and acute intoxication with encephalopathy has become uncommon. Nonetheless, between 1976 and 1980, 780,000 children, 1 to 6 years of age, had blood lead concentrations of 30 µg/L or above. These levels of absorption, previously thought to be safe, are now known to cause loss of neurologic and intellectual function, even in asymptomatic children. Because this loss is largely irreversible and cannot fully be restored by medical treatment, pediatricians' efforts must be directed toward prevention. Prevention is achieved by reducing children's exposure to lead and by early detection of increased absorption.
Childhood lead poisoning is now defined by the Academy as a whole blood lead concentration of 25 µg/L or more, together with an erythrocyte protoporphyrin level of 35 µg/dL or above. This definition does not require the presence of symptoms. It is identical with the new definition of the US Public Health Service. Lead poisoning in children previously was defined by a blood lead concentration of 30 µ/dL with an erythrocyte protoporphyrin level of 50 µg/dL.
To prevent lead exposure in children, the Academy urges public agencies to develop safe and effective methods for the removal and proper disposal of all lead-based paint from public and private housing. Also, the Academy urges the rapid and complete removal of all lead from gasoline.
To achieve early detection of lead poisoning, the Academy recommends that all children in the United States at risk of exposure to lead be screened for lead absorption at approximately 12 months of age by means of the erythrocyte protoporphyrin test, when that test is available. Furthermore, the Academy recommends follow-up erythrocyte protoporphyrin testing of children judged to be at high risk of lead absorption. Reporting of lead poisoning should be mandatory in all states.
- Copyright © 1987 by the American Academy of Pediatrics