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CDC Cuts Lead-Poisoning Limit For Kids

Preventing the exposure of kids to lead is a great idea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

The public health honchos agreed with an expert panel that recommended in January that anything greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood for kids 5 and younger should be considered dangerous. That's half the current standard and represents the first reduction since 1991.

With that change, the number of kids in the U.S. who would be considered to have lead poisoning that needs medical attention would rise to nearly a half-million, almost double the number before the change.

"This new definition of childhood lead poisoning will provide an enormous public health difference for all young children in the U.S., because it is evident that the prior level of 10 micrograms/deciliter did not protect the developing brains of young children," John Rosen, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, told Shots in an e-mail.

Lead is a neurotoxin that's particulary dangerous for children, even in small amounts. The damage it wreaks can't be reversed.

But the CDC acknowledged in its response to the panel's recommendations that it doesn't have the resources to fulfill several of them, such as implementing a national policy to prevent kids from being exposed to lead in the first place, even though it agrees with them in principle.

Dr. Robert W. Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, praised the CDC's decision in a statement, saying it "affirmed what pediatricians have recognized for decades: there is simply no safe level of lead exposure for children."

Budget cuts have reduced CDC's funding for lead prevention from $30 million to around $2 million this fiscal year. Block said pediatricians "call on Congress to reinstate funding for lead prevention programs" at the CDC "as soon as possible."

"Despite the near elimination of CDC funding for lead poisoning, this is the right policy for the nation's children. Parents will now have the information they need to protect their families from lead," Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, said in a statement.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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