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Selected tag(s): Lead Exposure

Good news: Blood lead levels in children resume their downward trend

Tom Neltner, Senior Director, Safer Chemicals

It is always worth keeping an eye on the latest U.S. data on blood lead levels in children. While no amount of lead is safe, it is nice to see lower levels reported in findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late last year.

In case you missed it, blood lead levels decreased among the children most exposed to the heavy metal during the most recent two-year cycle, according to a biomonitoring data report released by CDC.

The 2017-18 data comes from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Evaluation System (NHANES), and it is a key measure of overall progress towards reducing children’s exposure to lead from all sources.

In April 2019, we reported disturbing news that after six years of sustained and significant progress, the NHANES 2015-16 cycle showed blood lead levels (BLLs) of the most exposed children 1 to 5 years of age increased compared to the previous two years. We saw a similar trend for children 6 to 11 years of age in the 2015-16 data. At the time, we cautioned that the increase was not statistically significant because of the relatively small sample sizes – between 600 and 800 children in each age range – but was still worth watching. Read More »

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In a vote for reducing lead exposure and for clean water, House passes lead pipe replacement amendment

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director, Health and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

Today is a good day in the fight against lead exposure: the U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment to provide $22.5 billion to replace lead service lines (LSL) – the lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to the home – across the country, prioritizing low-income and environmental justice communities. The amendment to the Moving Forward Act (HR 2), was sponsored by Representatives Tlaib, Kildee, Slotkin, Cicilline, and Moore, and it received bipartisan support.

Permanently removing sources of lead is critically important, as there is no safe level of lead exposure. From learning and behavioral problems in children to cardiovascular disease and hypertension in adults – lead exposure has major impacts on our health. And turning on the tap in a home with an LSL is essentially drinking from a lead straw.

That’s why EDF, with our partners, worked to strongly support this amendment. And that’s why we’ve been working on other initiatives that will accelerate replacement of these lead pipes across the country. With an estimated 9.3 million LSLs remaining in 11,000 communities, full replacement will be a massive challenge. But – as EDF has seen with our work recognizing states and communities taking action on LSLs – momentum is building. Our latest estimates show that:

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FDA reduces maximum daily limit for lead in children’s food by half

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

On September 27, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reduced the maximum allowed daily intake of lead for children from 6 to 3 micrograms per day (µg/day). It has also set a limit for adults of 12.5 µg/day, to protect against possible fetal exposure in women who are unaware they are pregnant and to reduce infant exposure during nursing. The agency now refers to these limits as the “Interim Reference Level” to match the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) terminology for elevated blood lead levels that warrant action. FDA reports that the new level for children is the amount of lead in food expected to result in a blood lead level of 5 µg/deciliter, with a 10-fold safety factor to account for differences across the population.

This change is a major step in FDA’s new push to limit heavy metals in food to protect children’s neurological development. In April 2018, FDA explained that its Toxic Elements Working Group is “looking at all the [heavy] metals across all foods rather than one contaminant, one food at a time,” and that “even though the level of a metal in any particular food is low, our overall exposure adds up because many of the foods we eat contain them in small amounts.”

As the agency indicated earlier this year, the next step for the Working Group is to “begin reevaluating the specific lead levels that FDA has set for a variety of foods.”

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New report: Tackling lead in drinking water at child care facilities

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, Sam Lovell, Project Specialist and Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Recent crises around lead in drinking water have focused national attention on the harmful effects of children’s exposure to lead. While the particular vulnerability of children to lead is well understood by most – what might be surprising is that the majority of child care facilities are not required to test their water for lead.

Only 7 states and one city have such regulations on the books. And while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a voluntary guidance, the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water,” for schools and child care, the document has significant gaps in the child care setting – including an outdated action level of 20ppb and little emphasis on identifying and replacing lead service lines.

Given the critical need for more investigation in this area, we conducted a pilot project to evaluate new approaches to testing and remediating lead in water at child care facilities. EDF collaborated with local partners to conduct lead in water testing and remediation in 11 child care facilities in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Ohio. We have previously blogged about some early takeaways from testing hot water heaters and our preliminary findings from the project. Today, we released our final report, which provides the full results of the pilot and recommendations to better protect children moving forward.

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For children’s food, heavy metals require more attention and better standards

Tom Neltner is Chemicals Policy Director and Michelle Harvey and Maricel Maffini are consultants

In June 2017, EDF released Lead in Food: A Hidden Health Threat. The report examined a decade’s worth of data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and found lead detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods. Eight types of baby foods, including fruit juices, root vegetables, and teething biscuits, had detectable lead in more than 40% of the samples. We closed the report with the following recommendation:

In the meantime, parents should consult with their pediatrician to learn about how to reduce lead exposure. They should also check with their favorite brands and ask whether the company regularly tests their products for lead, and ensures that, especially for baby food, there is less than 1 ppb of lead in the food and juices they sell.

As described below, we have reason to believe it will take more focused effort on the part of both FDA and food companies to ensure consistently low levels of heavy metals – lead, arsenic, and cadmium in particular – in infant’s and toddler’s diets.

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New Study Says Lead – Even at Low Levels – is Associated with Risk of Premature Death

Dr. Ananya Roy is Health Scientist and Tom Neltner, J.D. is Chemicals Policy Director

This week, a team of researchers led by Dr. Bruce Lanphear published an important new study on the deadly impact of lead exposure for adults. The researchers examined data on more than 14,000 adults and found that an increase of 1 to 6.7 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) was significantly associated with an increase in mortality of 37% for all-causes, 70% for cardiovascular, and 108% for ischemic heart disease. The findings remained significant even after they considered and accounted for other factors that could have explained this effect.

This research fills a gap identified by the National Toxicology Program in 2011 in our understanding of the risk of lead exposure at low levels in adults. And it goes further by providing a quantitative relationship crucial to better evaluating the potential economic benefits of various policy options.

The study also had startling estimates about how many people are hurt by lead exposure. The authors estimated that over 400,000 Americans every year die from lead related illnesses – ten times higher than previous assessments. That’s on par with deaths from smoking cigarettes.

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