Thursday, July 3, 2008

Record-low number of lead-poisoned kids in city

Record-low number of lead-poisoned kids in city
Wednesday, July 2nd 2008, 9:56 PM

The number of young New York City children poisoned by lead continues to fall, reaching a record-low, health officials said Wednesday.

Some 1,970 kids ages 6 months to 6 years old were diagnosed with lead poisoning last year, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. About a quarter of them - 538 - had high enough levels of the metal in their blood that authorities investigated peeling paint and other lead hazards in their homes.

The figures mark a 90% decline since 1995, when nearly 20,000 children in that age group were diagnosed with lead poisoning. The condition can affect learning and behavior.

"It's great news - that's a blessing," said state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Harlem), who as a city councilman sponsored legislation requiring landlords to annually inspect and fix peeling or damaged lead paint in residences with tenants under age 6.

"Lives have been saved and futures for these children have been greatly enhanced," Perkins said.

Brooklyn had 43% of the new cases, followed by Queens (22%), the Bronx (19%), Manhattan (13%) and Staten Island (4%).

Brooklyn neighborhoods that were especially affected were Borough Park, East Flatbush-Flatbush, Bedford Stuyvesant-Crown Heights, Williamsburg-Bushwick, Greenpoint and East New York.

Lead poisoning also occurred in West Queens and Southwest Queens; Crotona-Tremont, Pelham-Throgs Neck, Fordham-Bronx Park and High Bridge-Morrisania; Washington Heights-Inwood, Central Harlem-Morningside Heights and the upper West Side; and Stapleton-St. George and Port Richmond.

Babies should be tested for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2, according to New York State law. They are most susceptible because they often put their hands or toys that may have picked up lead-laced dust or paint chips in their mouths.

While there are no clear symptoms of lead poisoning, parents of older children who think their kids were exposed to lead in paint dust or chips or household renovations should talk to their doctor, said Nancy Clark, the city's assistant commissioner for environmental disease prevention.

Experts believe the cognitive effects of lead are permanent, but some studies suggest that some of the decline in abilities may be reversible, especially when poisoning is caught early.

Lead specialist Dr. Morri Markowitz said the report showed a positive trend for the city, but that the definition for lead poisoning was arbitrary and may miss children with lower levels of exposure who still suffer health effects.

"The current definition has no foundation in terms of lead toxicity," said Markowitz, of Montefiore Medical Center.

"I don't want to belittle the numbers - it's great for New York, what's happened in the last 10 years, and the department deserves credit," he said. "But it doesn't tell the whole story."

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