Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A move by the CDC could result in a lot more cases of high lead levels.
An advisory panel is recommending a new standard cut off of 5 micrograms per deciliter. The current cut off for a high level is 10.
“Lead has no biological activity. It can only cause harm,” says Dr. Sylvia Choi. “It’s not normally in the body, so there’s no such thing as a normal lead level.”
Lead is a metal that was common in paint and gasoline. It can harm the brain, kidneys and other organs. High levels can be fatal. Low levels can affect intelligence and behavior.
“For a young kid, getting exposed to lead at that critical time when your brain is developing is much more damaging than if you’re an adult,” Dr. Choi continues.
Old homes with peeling paint, or soil contaminated by old leaded gasoline can be sources of poisoning — especially if these get in children’s mouths.
“Here in Allegheny County, more than 85 percent of our housing stock was built before 1970. That means most of the homes we have in our area are at very high lead risk,” points out Dr. Choi.
Medicines can help to reduce levels over 45. But in some ways, it’s too late.
“Once you have elevated lead levels, it’s very difficult to do anything about it. Because it goes from being in the bloodstream to going into the solid organs and bones and the brain,” says Dr. Choi.
Since there is no treatment for these very low, but abnormal, levels, other than cleanup of the home environment, there’s not much else parents or doctors can do.
Health officials think as many as 250,000 children have high lead levels — many of them undiagnosed. The proposed change could increase this number to 450,000.