New CDC Lead Poisoning Guidance has Broad Implications for Public Health and Litigation


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lowered the threshold for identifying lead "poisoning" in children by half.  In a ruling on May 16, 2012, the CDC reduced the level of concern for blood lead testing in children ages 5 and below from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms per deciliter.  This new level will automatically double the number of children officially considered to have lead "poisoning" from 250,000 to 500,000 children based on CDC statistics.  The CDC's action is the first time in 20 years that the level for acceptable levels of lead in the bloodstream has been adjusted.

Focusing on the prevention of any unnecessary lead exposure, the CDC is eliminating the term "level of concern" and redefining the term as an action level.  As a result of these two changes, many more children under 5 years of age could be diagnosed with too much lead in their blood.  Elevated blood lead has been linked to neurological symptoms, and developmental problems in children and adults.

Contending that science supports this change, the reduction in value was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and characterized as long overdue.  The Coalition cited a false sense of security among parents and doctors that children were safe from harm if the level in their bloodstream did not exceed 10 micrograms per deciliter.  The Committee’s recommendation noted numerous medical studies reporting detrimental cognitive effects of lead at blood levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL.

According to medical professionals, the CDC's decision means as many as 1 million children could be diagnosed with lead poisoning, up from the current 250,000.  The major sources of environmental lead contamination arise from soil residues from leaded gas emissions, household pipes and faucets, and from lead interior and exterior house paints.  Although the use of lead in house paints was significantly reduced in 1978, lead-based paint in deteriorating housing remains a significant source of childhood lead poisoning today.  In recent years, lead concerns have been raised from imported toys, children’s jewelry, poorly glazed ceramic dishware, and even soccer jerseys.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and National Toxicology Program have all endorsed the reduced blood lead levels.  These regulatory changes come with no additional federal dollars to help implement expanded programs to combat lead poisoning.  In fact, during the 2012 fiscal year congressional funding for the CDC’s childhood lead poisoning program was slashed from $29.2 million dollars to only $2 million dollars.  The CDC will therefore be relying on existing federal, state and municipal housing and inspection agencies to implement the new standard.

However, citing an intention to more proactively lower the incidence of child injury from lead, the CDC has indicated that going forward it will revisit the reference level every four years, based on a reassessment of the lead levels in the top percentage of children displaying elevated blood lead.  The new 5 ug/dL represents the top 2.5% of blood levels tested in children.

This guidance can be found at The implementation of these new prevention-focused standards may catch landlords, builders and property managers unaware and create many new lead poisoning cases in children who were not considered at risk under the prior rule.   Governo Law Firm LLC is continuing to monitor developments in this area. For more information regarding these issues or to discuss legal issues related to lead in housing or products please contact David Governo at [email protected] or Sarah O'Leary at [email protected].


CDC Response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Recommendations in “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call of Primary Prevention”  June 7, 2012.  Available online at

C.D.C. Lowers Recommended Lead-Level Limits in Children, N.Y. Times, May 17, 2012, pg. A24.

Official Euro 2012 shirts from Germany, France and Italy might be toxic. Wednesday, June 6, 2012, Yahoo Sports.  Available online at