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Press Release
New York City Department of Health
Office of Public Affairs
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Greg Butler
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
(212) 295-5335/5336


Health Commissioner Calls for Doctors to Increase Screening of Children

New York City Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, today announced New York City childhood lead poisoning figures for 2001, and urged medical providers throughout the City to step-up lead poisoning screening among children under the age of three, and high risk children up to the age of six. Dr. Frieden also reminded New Yorkers to call DOH's lead information line – (212) BAN-LEAD (226-5323) – for assistance in obtaining blood lead screenings, as well as for information on lead poisoning prevention and how to report peeling paint in the home.

Dr. Frieden said, "Over the past three decades, New York City has experienced a dramatic decline in childhood lead poisoning. Since 1996, the number of newly identified children with blood lead levels requiring environmental intervention and case monitoring dropped 58%, even as the threshold that triggers environmental intervention was made more strict. Moreover, since 1996, the number of newly reported children with elevated (>10 mcg/dL)* blood lead levels fell 68%.

Newly Identified Children at or Above the Environmental Intervention Blood Lead Level†
Among Children Ages 6 Months to Less Than 6 years, 1996-2001

Lead 1996-2001
* - mcg/dL = micrograms per deciliter, ** - 2001 data are preliminary.

† Beginning in July 1, 1999, the environmental intervention blood lead level (EIBLL) was lowered to include 2 reported blood lead levels between 15 and 19 mcg/dL at least three months apart. Prior to July 1, 1999, the EIBLL was one venous blood lead level at least 20 mcg/dL.

Dr. Frieden continued, "While these gains are encouraging, there were still 4,656 new reports of children with elevated (>10 mcg/dL) blood lead levels in New York City. We must strengthen our efforts to reach our goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning by the year 2010. We can accelerate our progress if we focus our attention on the most heavily affected neighborhoods."

Children Newly Identified with Blood Lead Levels of 10 Micrograms/Deciliter (mcg/dL) or Higher,*
Ages 6 Months to Less Than 6 years, 1996-2001

Calendar Year199619971998199920002001
Number of Children with a Newly
Reported BLL of 10 mcg/dL or Higher

*- Venous and capillary test samples are included. Previous releases of data included only venous blood lead test results. Thus, counts reported here for 1996-2000 are different than those reported in prior years since capillary results are now included. 2001 data are preliminary.

Dr. Jessica Leighton, Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Risk Assessment and Communication said, "As most children with elevated blood lead levels exhibit no symptoms, many elude diagnosis. This underscores the importance of early screening. New York State law mandates that doctors test children for elevated blood lead levels at both one and two years of age. With 59% of one-year olds, and 50% of two-year olds in New York City tested each year, these rates are markedly below mandatory screening requirements. ‡ Improved screening among these children is critical since children at these ages are at greatest risk for lead poisoning."

In addition, New York State law mandates that all children up to six years of age must be assessed and undergo a blood lead test if it is determined that they are at high risk. The Health Department recommends that physicians test all children under the age of six who fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Children who live in or regularly visit a home or any other place built before 1960 that has peeling or chipping paint, or that has recent, ongoing, or planned renovation;
  • Children who have a brother, sister, housemate, or playmate with an elevated blood lead level or who frequently come into contact with an adult whose job or hobby may involve exposure to lead;
  • Children whose families visited other countries for substantial periods of time – or recently arrived from a country – where there may have been exposure to lead; and
  • Older children with developmental delays, who exhibit pica (ingestion of non-food substances, such as paint chips) or have extensive hand-to-mouth activity.

The Health Department investigates complaints of improper practices involved in work on lead paint surfaces. DOH inspectors monitor that lead abatement contractors are properly certified, use appropriate methods of abatement, minimize the spread of any dust that may potentially contain lead, and properly perform a final clean up and inspection. Owners and/or contractors may be subject to fines up to $2,000 per violation issued.

For more information on childhood lead poisoning, please call 212-BAN-LEAD or visit

‡ - This represents average testing rates 1999-2001, using population counts derived from DOH vital records as the denominator.