New Report Criticizes Mark Green's Latest Lead Scare

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New York, NY February 12, 1998. According to a commentary released today by the New York City Advisory Council on Health Priorities, an affiliate of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), New York City Public Advocate Mark Green's report Lead & Kids: Why are 30,000 NYC Children Contaminated? lacks sound, comprehensive scientific support and relies, instead, on biased language and emotional, anecdotal case reports.

The Green report asserts that lead poisoning is a "dire problem" for New York's children and contends that 30,000 city youngsters are contaminated. But while localized lead problems do exist, especially in certain neighborhoods, New York City does not face a widespread health emergency. In fact, as ACSH points out in a recently released booklet called Lead and Human Health, symptomatic childhood lead "poisoning," seen often until the 1970s, has ceased to exist as a widespread public health threat in the United States. Findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm that for 95 percent of young children in the U.S., lead poisoning is not a health problem.

The Public Advocate's report also recommends support for the proposed Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Bill (Int. 956). The Advisory Council's commentary notes, however, a deficiency in the Green report's information concerning the bill. The report describes proposed surveillance and potential removal of lead hazards but offers no discussion of the costs of such a program. Even more importantly, however and central to the safety of such a program the report does not say how, by whom, or by what methods such removal should be accomplished. These are critical factors, given that incorrectly abated lead paint can actually increase children's lead exposure.

"The Public Advocate's report lifts concern about lead poisoning in children to the emotionally charged pitch of a public health scare," says ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. "Furthermore," notes Dr. Whelan, "the levels of exposure Mr. Green discusses in his report are not associated with adverse health effects. The Green report attests that blood lead levels (BLLs) of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) are associated with lower IQ, stunted growth, and behavioral disorders. If this were true, we should have witnessed these effects on an entire generation of children. Since the 1970s and 1980s nearly 90 percent of American children under age 5 have had BLLs exceeding 10 µg/dL, but no effects of this nature have been found."

The New York Advisory Council concludes that while the Green report raises some issues important on the local level, the report is flawed by the lack of an objective, well-researched review of the scientific evidence. In the view of the Advisory Council, a broader, more robust analysis is needed before the proposed bill (Int. 956) can be endorsed.