More than half a million U.S. children now are believed to have lead poisoning, roughly twice the previous high estimate, health officials reported Thursday.
The increase is the result of the government’s lowering the threshold for lead poisoning last year, so now more children are considered at risk.
Too much lead can harm developing brains and can mean a lower IQ. Lead poisoning used to be a much larger concern in the United States but has declined significantly as lead was removed from paint and gasoline and other sources.
The new number translates to about 1 in 38 young children. That estimate suggests a need for more testing and preventive measures, some experts said, but budget cuts last year eliminated federal grant funding for such programs.
Those cuts represent “an abandonment of children,” said David Rosner, a Columbia University public-health historian who writes books about lead poisoning.
“We’ve been acting like the problem was solved and this was a thing of the past,” he added.
Lead can harm a child’s brain, kidneys and other organs. High levels in the blood can cause coma, convulsions and death. Lower levels can reduce intelligence, impair hearing and behavior and cause other problems.