- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

The number of Maryland children with blood lead poisoning dropped 36 percent from 1999 to 2000, health officials said as they touted the state's stepped-up efforts to stem the effect of the toxic paint ingredient.
The vast majority of properties with elevated lead-paint levels in the state are in Baltimore, which has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation. Other properties of concern are scattered throughout the state, including in Prince George's County, Cumberland and the Eastern Shore counties of Dorchester and Wicomico.
Tests indicated that 353 children younger than 6 had poisonous levels of lead in their blood in 2000, down from 555 in 1999. A blood-lead level of equal or greater than 20 micrograms per deciliter is considered toxic.
Lead poisoning can cause serious health problems including kidney and liver damage, brain damage, hearing problems and anemia. It sometimes results in death. Children with elevated lead levels in their blood also are prone to learning and behavioral problems.
Children, particularly toddlers, get lead in their blood by eating peeling paint chips or ingesting lead paint dust. Lead-based paint was widely used in homes until it was banned in Baltimore in 1951 and nationwide in 1978.
The number of children statewide with blood-lead levels of 10 micrograms or higher per deciliter declined by 13 percent, from 3,904 in 1999 to 3,402 in 2000, officials said.
"We're getting increasingly concerned at any level, certainly above 10," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The number of children statewide who were screened for blood-lead levels increased 21 percent, from 61,529 in 1999 to 74,516 in 2000. In Baltimore, screening of 1-year-olds increased from 56 percent in 1999 to 65.4 percent in 2000. For 2-year-olds, screening increased from 38.7 percent in 1999 to 48.2 percent in 2000.
In spring of 2000, Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced a $50 million plan using federal, state and Baltimore funds to dramatically reduce childhood lead poisoning in the city.
The plan increased staff for inspecting properties in Baltimore and prosecuting landlords who fail to comply with city and state standards.
Mr. Glendening's 2000 initiative also increased money for education and testing, and distributed grants to landlords to make apartments and houses lead-safe.
"I've continued to argue you don't just have to get the lead out of the kids, but you have to get the lead out of the environment," Dr. Benjamin said.
To that end, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Baltimore City Health Department have filed 509 enforcement actions this year to force landlords to comply with cleanup standards, up from 171 last year and zero in 1995. Dr. Peter Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner, says they haven't lost a case yet.
The actions have targeted housing with the highest risk of dangerous lead paint levels, Dr. Beilenson said. Still, the actions have affected just a fraction of the tens of thousands of properties in Baltimore.
"This is making a significant dent, but it's not a panacea," Dr. Beilenson said.
Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning called the figures a "very good start that needs to continue to improve."
"We are delighted any time we see lead levels decreasing," she said.
However, she said she believes screening levels still are too low, especially compared with the number of children who receive school-based immunizations for diseases such as mumps and measles.

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