News Release
   
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   April 5, 2001

Christine Grant
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
DHSS - Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160
DHS - Cece Lentini
(609) 292-3703

 

Report Outlines Progress on Childhood Lead Poisoning Screening


TRENTON -- The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services today released the state's first comprehensive data on the progress being made in identifying children with lead poisoning.

More than 137,000 children were tested in the year covered by the report, and about five percent had elevated blood lead levels, according to the department's first report to summarize all blood lead test results from laboratories in the state.

"This annual report serves as a valuable reminder to all parents and physicians as to the significant health risks posed by lead exposure and the importance of screening every young child in the state of New Jersey," said Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco. "The report will play a significant role in the state's ongoing outreach and education effort."

State law requires that every one- and two-year-old be tested for elevated blood lead. However, only about 67,600 children - or about one-third of the state's population in that age group - were tested from June 30, 1999, to July 1, 2000.

"This report gives us the most complete picture yet of New Jersey's efforts to eliminate lead poisoning," said Commissioner Christine Grant. "While I'm pleased at the progress we've made, we need to do much more to reach all the children who should be tested, and that's where we're focusing our program."

According to the report released today, five percent of children tested in state fiscal year 2000 had a blood lead level at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter, which is considered elevated. That level may cause health and development problems in children, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At levels of 20 micrograms or greater, state regulation requires local health officials to investigate the child's case and order abatement of any lead hazards that are found. One percent of children screened in the state had levels of 20 micrograms or greater.

"Both physicians and parents need to know that children can be at risk for lead poisoning no matter where they live. We've seen lead poisoning cases, including some of the higher blood lead level elevations, in every county in the state," Grant said. "I urge all physicians to be aware of the law and to test all one- and two-year-olds."

The departments of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), and Human Services (DHS) are taking steps to raise the number of children screened. Commissioner Grant is reconvening the Physicians Lead Advisory Committee to advise the department on ways to improve lead screening levels statewide. That group will begin meeting in late spring.

The DHS has convened a Working Group on Lead Screening to find ways to increase screening of children covered by the Medicaid and Family Care programs. This population is a priority because a national study has shown that 77 percent of all children with lead poisoning are eligible for Medicaid or other federal health programs. The working group consists of DHS and DHSS representatives, key management staff from HMOs whose members include Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare beneficiaries, and representatives of physician and community groups. A key goal of the working group is to help HMOs increase awareness among their physicians and members about the importance of lead screening.

"Clearly, lead screening is very important for children covered by the Medicaid program because a great majority of them live in older, urban areas where lead paint was used in the homes," said Department of Human Services Acting Commissioner James W. Smith.

"We have made progress, but we must do better. We must continue our efforts to increase the number of children screened for lead poisoning through public education and a concerted effort of the HMOs and their doctors," he added. "We should not be satisfied until all of the children in our Medicaid and Family Care programs are screened, as appropriate, for lead poisoning."

To better determine how many Medicaid children are being screened, DHS and DHSS are matching the laboratory lead test report database with the Medicaid enrollment database to identify children who have been screened. HMOs will be notified and, as a result, will know where to focus their outreach activities to reach families with children who have not been screened. Lead screening is required in the HMOs' Medicaid contracts.

And the DHS and the DHSS have already taken other steps to support lead poisoning prevention and screening. For instance, the DHSS provides over $2 million in grants to 13 local health departments to conduct lead screening and provide follow-up services to children with elevated lead levels. The department has also distributed educational materials on the lead screening law to physicians, and professional and managed care organizations statewide. The DHSS will also soon conduct a more in-depth analysis of the 2000 annual lead report's data - including by town and zip code - and will share the results with local groups mounting education and awareness efforts.

In addition, the DHS and the DHSS have jointly audited the state's federally qualified community health centers for both lead screening and immunization performance and will share that data with the centers. DHS and DHSS are also discussing the most effective ways to distribute lead screening information with the nearly 9,000 licensed child care centers and homes in the state.

Lead can be particularly damaging to a young child's nervous system, causing learning disabilities, hyperactivity, decreased hearing, mental retardation and possibly death. Children can be exposed to lead through lead-based paint in older housing units, the dust and soil in which they play, or tap water, among other sources.

The highest risk is for children living in houses built before 1950, when paints contained very high lead levels. More than a third of the state's housing stock is pre-1950, with the highest percentages in Hudson and Essex counties.

In Essex County, 12 percent of children had elevated test results - the highest rate in the state. Somerset was lowest at just under one percent. Hunterdon County had the best screening rate with 61 percent of one- and two-year-olds screened. Cape May was lowest at 15 percent.

Childhood Lead Poisoning in New Jersey: Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2000 (available at www.state.nj.us/health) is the first report to include all blood lead screening results, including both elevated and normal test results. Since July 1999, clinical laboratories have been required to report all results to the department. In previous years, 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. The current report provides baseline data for determining future trends in lead poisoning and lead screening.

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