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Press Release

Press Release # 024-11
Friday, September 30, 2011

MEDIA CONTACT: (347) 396-4177
Chanel Caraway/Alexandra Waldhorn:

Number of Young Children with Lead Poisoning Remains at Historic Low

September 30, 2011 – The number of young children with lead poisoning in New York City in 2010 remains at a historic low, the Health Department announced today in its annual report to the City Council. In 2010 the agency recorded 1,429 poisonings among children under 6 years of age, almost the same number as in 2009 when the total was 1,431. The number of childhood lead poisoning cases has declined 47% since 2005, the decline slowed between 2009 and 2010 for unknown reasons. The Health Department will continue to monitor cases and target prevention activities in high risk communities to eliminate exposure to lead hazards.

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“We know lead paint is the main cause of lead poisoning and young children are most at risk,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “It is critically important that landlords follow the law and safely repair peeling lead paint in homes with young children. Too many children, especially those living in older, poorly maintained housing, are still vulnerable to this serious but preventable health problem.”

Lead poisoning can cause learning and behavior problems, even at low levels. Lead poisoning is defined as a blood lead level containing 10 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL). State law requires doctors to test children at or around 1 and 2 years of age, because those with elevated blood lead levels may not show clinical symptoms.

In 2010, 448 children under 6 were newly identified with blood lead levels of 15 mcg/dL or higher compared to 449 children in 2009. When a child is diagnosed with lead poisoning at this level the Health Department conducts a home inspection to identify lead paint hazards and other lead exposures, orders landlords to repair hazards in a safe and timely manner, and works with families and health care providers to reduce the child’s exposure.

Annual citywide surveillance data show that Brooklyn children are disproportionately affected by lead poisoning. Though only 35% of the children under 6 who were tested last year were from Brooklyn, 44% of the lead poisoning cases came from that borough. The top three neighborhoods with the highest rate of lead poisonings were in Brooklyn. Greenpoint, Brooklyn had the highest rate with 11 cases per thousand children tested – almost 3 times higher than the citywide rate of 4.2 cases per thousand tested – followed by Borough Park, with 7.2 cases per thousand tested and Bensonhurst-Bay Ridge with 6.8 cases per thousand tested.

Health Department Prevention Efforts

  • Early identification of lead-poisoned children is important in order to identify and prevent further exposures as quickly as possible. Since most children with elevated blood lead levels have no symptoms, blood lead testing is the only practical way to identify these children. In New York State, health care providers are required by law to test all children aged 1 and 2 years old and to assess children for risk of lead poisoning starting at age six months to less than six years of age.
  • An estimated 92% of New York City children turning 3 years of age in 2010 were tested for lead poisoning at least once. Yet, only about half (53%) of them were tested at or around both age 1 and age 2, as required by New York State law. The Health Department works with families, providers and health care plans to promote blood lead testing of young children and lead poisoning prevention. Informational materials are available in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Bengali, Chinese, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, French, Haitian Creole and Russian.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Protect their Children from Lead Poisoning

  • Report peeling paint to your landlord. Landlords are required to fix peeling paint in homes where young children live. If your landlord does not respond, call 311.
  • Remind your doctor to test your child for lead poisoning at 1 and 2 years of age. Ask your doctor about testing older children who may be at risk of lead exposure.
  • Wash floors, windowsills, hands, toys and pacifiers often to remove lead dust that may be present in the home.
  • Don’t use imported foods, spices, medicines, pots, dishes, cosmetics or toys known to contain lead.
  • Use only cold tap water for making baby formula and for drinking and cooking. Run the water until it feels cold before using it.

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 23-29.  As part of expanded outreach efforts, during the months of October and November, the Health Department is providing educational programs in libraries across all five boroughs, targeting neighborhoods with large immigrant and low income residents.  The educational programs provide valuable information to caregivers and children about the health effects of lead exposure, especially peeling lead paint, and what families can do to prevent exposure.

For more information on preventing childhood lead poisoning, call 311. You can read the Health Bulletin “Protect Your Child from Lead Poisoning” and lead poisoning annual data reports by visiting