Lead cases on the rise Improved screening, reporting cited as reason for increase

May 23, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

The number of Maryland children identified with lead poisoning more than doubled last year, a jump that state officials attribute to better reporting and increased screening for what health experts say is the leading environmental hazard for American children.

A preliminary analysis of blood test results reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment last year by state and private laboratories showed there were 1,445 lead-poisoned children statewide, up from 544 children identified in 1989.

Four-fifths of the poisoned children lived in Baltimore, where the number more than doubled from 503 in 1989 to 1,148 last year. Only 97 poisoned children were identified in the rest of the state, but that number also more than doubled from 41 in 1989.

Another 200 poisoned children are from unknown jurisdictions within the state. Missing and inaccurate reporting information has made it impossible for the state to locate them.

Baltimore County had the third highest number of lead-poisoned children, 27, on the state childhood lead registry, which is compiled from test results reported to the state. Prince George's County, with 28 cases, had the second largest number.

Patricia McLaine, coordinator of lead poisoning prevention for the state environmental agency, said recently that there has been a rise in screening and reporting of lead poisoning cases. She attributed that to increased publicity about lead poisoning and to a 1990 law requiring that all screening test results be reported to the state.

"I think the message is getting through," she said. "I think parents are more concerned, and the doctors are doing more screening tests."

Excessive exposure to lead can cause hyperactivity, mental retardation and even death in high enough doses. Ingesting even low levels of lead can lead to brain damage and learning and behavioral problems in young children.

The biggest source of lead exposure for young children is dust they swallow from deteriorating lead-based paint in or on their homes. But even well-maintained older homes may pose a hazard for children if renovations or even repainting is done without precautions against stirring up lead-paint dust.

The city has about 200,000 houses that were built before 1950 when lead paint was widely used. Another 300,000 pre-1950 homes are in the rest of the state. Baltimore banned the use of lead paint in 1951.

Other lesser sources of lead include lead dust in topsoil, eating food contained in lead-soldered cans, and drinking water passing through lead pipes or plumbing fixtures connected with lead solder.

LEAD POISONING CASES

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..1989 .. .. 1990

Baltimore City .. .. .. .. 503 .. .. 1,148

Anne Arundel Co. .. .. .. .. 0 .. .. .. .3

Baltimore Co. .. .. .. .. .. 9 .. .. .. 27

Calvert County .. .. .. .. . 1 .. .. .. .1

Caroline Co. .. .. .. .. .. .3 .. .. .. .1

Carroll Co .. . .. .. .. .. 1 .. .. .. .3

Cecil Co. .. .. .. .. .. .. .0 .. .. .. .2

Charles Co. .. .. .. .. .. . 0 .. .. .. .0

Dorchester Co. .. .. .. .. . 0 .. .. .. .0

Frederick Co. .. .. .. .. .. 0 .. .. .. .3

Garrett Co. .. .. .. .. .. . 0 .. .. .. .0

Harford Co. .. .. .. .. .. . 2 .. .. .. .1

Howard Co. .. .. .. .. .. . .0 .. .. .. .2

Kent Co. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..1 .. .. .. .2

Montgomery Co. .. .. .. .. ..2 .. .. .. .8

Prince George's Co. .. .. . 18 .. .. .. 28

Queen Anne's Co. .. .. .. . .0 .. .. .. .1

St. Mary's Co. .. .. .. .. . 0 .. .. .. .0

Somerset Co. .. .. .. .. . .0 .. .. .. ..0

Talbot Co. .. .. .. .. .. .. 0 .. .. .. .0

BTC Washington Co. .. .. .. .. . 0 .. .. .. .7

Wicomico Co. .. .. .. .. .. .4 .. .. .. .6

Worcester Co. .. ... .. .. ..0 .. .. .. .1

Total counties .. .. .. .. .41 .. .. .. 97

Unknown location .. .. .. .N/A .. .. . 200

Total state .. .. .. .. .. 544 .. .. 1,445

*Source: Maryland Department of Environment

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