CDC Says Testing for Lead Can Be Stopped in Low-Risk Areas

<i> Associated Press</i>

Communities where few children have high levels of lead in their blood may stop expensive widespread testing and instead focus on finding those at greatest risk, the government reported.

The recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was criticized by a consumer advocacy group, which said the survey was biased.

The CDC reported on unexpectedly low numbers of California children with high lead levels. The 2,864 children on Medicaid were screened after the CDC recommended in 1991 that all children be tested for lead, except those in communities that had done testing previously. Each test cost California $22.45.

Just 2% had high lead levels, compared with the national average of 9%, the CDC found.


The CDC was surprised, because earlier surveys had shown that children in some California cities had higher levels, said Dr. Peter Briss of the CDC’s lead poisoning prevention branch.

Children in two of those cities, Sacramento and Compton, participated in both studies.

Previous research had shown that lead levels are generally higher for poor children. Rates of children with high lead levels range from 5% for suburban whites and rural whites to 37% among black children in cities.

“This suggests that screening every child may not be efficient,” Briss said.

That conclusion is premature and even dangerous, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe of Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer group. He said the survey was biased because the tests were done only on Medicaid children at one HMO.

Lead has long been recognized as a hazardous substance, especially to young children and infants. It can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental function.