N.J. Department of Health releases Childhood Lead Report for 2018

TRENTON, NJ — Nearly 85 percent of toddlers who turned 3 during fiscal year 2018 received at least one blood lead test in their lifetime — an increase of 7 percent from the previous year — and more than 191,000 children younger than 17 were screened for lead last year, according to the SFY2018 Childhood Lead Annual Report released Nov. 15 by the state Department of Health.

Approximately 4,400 children — or 2.3 percent of all children under age 17 — had elevated blood lead levels in 2018 when the state lowered the standard of an elevated blood lead test from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to five ug/dL. As a result of lowering the standard, 3,500 children — of the 4,400 — were newly identified as having elevated blood lead levels because of the new standard. The lower threshold allows local health agencies to intervene earlier with home inspections and nurse case managers. 

The state has been providing $10 million in additional funding each year since SFY2018, given the increase in caseload due to the lower blood lead level threshold. In addition, the Department of Health provides grants to regional coalitions and community partners to support prevention and education efforts.

“The department’s role is to prevent, screen and intervene,” acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “Lowering the standard allows us to intervene earlier — interrupting lead exposure in the home and minimizing the challenges children will face due to lead exposure. Even low levels of lead can disrupt the normal growth and development of a child’s brain and central nervous system. It can cause learning disabilities, attention deficits and hyperactivity. Preventing lead exposure is critical to protect our children.”

More than 75 percent of New Jersey children with elevated blood levels are exposed by breathing or swallowing lead dust and peeling lead paint chips in homes built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead-based paint. Other sources of lead include lead service lines and plumbing, and imported toys, candy, spices, jewelry, cosmetics and pottery.

The DOH is continuing its #kNOwLEAD public awareness campaign to remind families that children should be tested for lead at ages 1 and 2. Educational posters in several languages can be downloaded at nj.gov/health/childhoodlead. Posters explaining the role that healthy foods can play in preventing lead from being absorbed by the body are also available. This website also has frequently asked questions about lead exposure.

The Department also posted a revised SFY2017 Childhood Lead Annual Report. There were no major changes in measures such as the total number of children with elevated blood lead levels. But some tables showing municipal level data and case investigations were revised to reflect improvements in the way data is coded and analyzed. For example, a new analysis used to calculate the number of abatements completed by local health departments resulted in the percent of abatements completed by the Newark Department of Health & Community Wellness changing from zero percent in the original report to 62 percent in the revised report.

The Annual Childhood Lead reports can be found at https://nj.gov/health/childhoodlead/data.shtml.