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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  December 17, 2001

George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Marilyn Riley
609-984-7160


Report Outlines Progress on Childhood Lead Poisoning Screening

TRENTON - More New Jersey children were tested for lead poisoning and less had elevated blood levels in Fiscal Year 2001 than in the previous year, according to the state's annual report on childhood lead poisoning screening, which was released today by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).

The report, titled "Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey: Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2001," showed that there was an 8.5 percent increase in the number of children tested for lead poisoning, with an 11 percent increase in the one- and two-year old category alone. Less than 4 percent (3.8) of those children who were tested had elevated blood levels-down from 5 percent a year ago.

The Department also today announced a new initiative to help local health departments in the follow-up investigations and abatement in cases where elevated blood levels are reported.

"I am pleased to see that New Jersey is making steady, consistent progress in identifying children with lead poisoning," said Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco. "This annual report serves as a valuable reminder to parents and health care professionals alike as to the significant health risks posed by lead exposure and the importance of screening all of New Jersey's children."

More than 149,000 children were tested in Fiscal Year 2001 (FY 2001) according to the department's second annual report to summarize all blood level tests results from New Jersey laboratories. State law requires that health care providers test every one- and two-year old in their care for elevated blood lead levels. This year's report shows that about 75,000 one- and two- year olds were tested from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001 - more than one-third of the total one- and two-year old population in the state.

According to the report (available at www.state.nj.us/health), 3.8 percent of children tested in FY 2001 had a blood lead level at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter, which is considered elevated. And while the number of children that were tested increased, the number of children with elevated blood levels decreased by 18 percent in FY 2001, from 6,847 to 5,616.

The report also revealed a continued decrease in children tested at levels of 20 micrograms or greater - a level where state regulation requires local health officials to investigate the child's case and order abatement of any lead hazards that are found.

Of those tested, 947 - less than one percent - had elevated blood levels equal or greater than 20 micrograms, down from 1,309 a year ago (a 27 percent decrease). All 21 counties did have at least one child with a reported level of 20 micrograms or greater.

Of those 947 cases, 452 inspections were completed, which is 62 percent of all cases reported where inspection was required. Ninety-nine abatements were completed, which is 28 percent of the properties where a lead hazard was found.

"This is the key area where we need to devote more attention," said Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD. "There are specific cities where the numbers are encouraging. The Newark Department of Health and Human Services has made a considerable improvement in its lead poisoning investigation activities in recent years. The percentage of inspections completed in Newark significantly increased over the last three years-from 23 percent in 1999 to 47 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2001."

Starting this January, the DHSS will notify local health officials each quarter of any outstanding cases for investigation or abatement. Previously, local health departments were notified every six months. If these cases are not resolved after 30 days, a letter will be sent to the Health Officer requesting a meeting to discuss the problem of outstanding investigations. Sanctions will be taken against local health departments that do not complete outstanding inspections.

Looking at New Jersey's counties, Essex County reported that 8.7 percent of children tested had elevated lead results-the highest in the state, but down from 12 percent a year ago. Somerset and Burlington counties were the lowest with 0.1 percent. Hunterdon County had the best screening rate with 54 percent of one- and two-year olds tested. Cape May County had the lowest screening rate at 17 percent.

Since July 1999, clinical laboratories have been required to report all results to the department. Prior to that, only elevated test results had to be reported, which meant that the state could not accurately determine how many children were screened and the percent with elevated blood lead levels. Last year, the Department used laboratory results to compile the first comprehensive report on childhood lead poisoning.

During 2001, the Department spearheaded several activities aimed at reducing lead poisoning in children. These included awarding more than $2 million in grant funds to 13 local health departments to support lead testing, case management for children with elevated test results and public education seminars. Also, the Department provided $65,000 to the Newark Partnership for Lead Safe Children to support screenings and lead poisoning prevention education programs.

Other activities planned for 2002 include a joint pilot program with the Department of Human Services to make operators and staff of licensed childcare centers and family child care homes aware of the dangers of lead poisoning and give them support to educate parents who use these centers.

 

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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