Update of the Blood Lead Reference Value — United States, 2021

Perri Zeitz Ruckart, MPH; Robert L. Jones, PhD; Joseph G. Courtney, PhD; Tanya Telfair LeBlanc, PhD; Wilma Jackson, MPA; Mateusz P. Karwowski, MD; Po-Yung Cheng, PhD; Paul Allwood, PhD; Erik R. Svendsen, PhD; Patrick N. Breysse, PhD

Disclosures

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2021;70(43):1509-1512. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Introduction

The negative impact of lead exposure on young children and those who become pregnant is well documented but is not well known by those at highest risk from this hazard. Scientific evidence suggests that there is no known safe blood lead level (BLL), because even small amounts of lead can be harmful to a child's developing brain.[1] In 2012, CDC introduced the population-based blood lead reference value (BLRV) to identify children exposed to more lead than most other children in the United States. The BLRV should be used as a guide to 1) help determine whether medical or environmental follow-up actions should be initiated for an individual child and 2) prioritize communities with the most need for primary prevention of exposure and evaluate the effectiveness of prevention efforts. The BLRV is based on the 97.5th percentile of the blood lead distribution in U.S. children aged 1–5 years from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. NHANES is a complex, multistage survey designed to provide a nationally representative assessment of health and nutritional status of the noninstitutionalized civilian adult and child populations in the United States.[2] The initial BLRV of 5 μg/dL, established in 2012, was based on data from the 2007–2008 and 2009–2010 NHANES cycles. Consistent with recommendations from a former advisory committee, this report updates CDC's BLRV in children to 3.5 μg/dL using NHANES data derived from the 2015–2016 and 2017–2018 cycles and provides helpful information to support adoption by state and local health departments, health care providers (HCPs), clinical laboratories, and others and serves as an opportunity to advance health equity and environmental justice related to preventable lead exposure. CDC recommends that public health and clinical professionals focus screening efforts on populations at high risk based on age of housing and sociodemographic risk factors. Public health and clinical professionals should collaborate to develop screening plans responsive to local conditions using local data. In the absence of such plans, universal BLL testing is recommended. In addition, jurisdictions should follow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requirement that all Medicaid-enrolled children be tested at ages 12 and 24 months or at age 24–72 months if they have not previously been screened.[3]

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