Assembly Health Committee Approves Legislation To Modify State Standards On Child Lead Blood Levels, As Gov Agrees to Change

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The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee approved legislation, (A-3411/S-1830 (Muoio / Rice)), to strengthen the state’s response to elevated blood lead levels in children.  The bill would amend current state statutes related to childhood lead poisoning by lowering the blood lead level threshold that would trigger responsive action from the state in order to make it consistent with the most recent recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Gubernatorial Response

The Gov. Christie directed the Department of Health (DOH) to follow suit with the changes almost simultaneously to the legislation being considered by the panel.  The Governor noted that the legislation will codify the changes into law so that they will not be subject to the whims of future administrations.

In the past, the CDC recommended responsive action be taken to address childhood lead poisoning in those cases where a lead screening test showed an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or more – designated as a blood lead “level of concern.” However, the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention issued a report in 2012 concluding that the term “level of concern” should be eliminated from all future CDC policies to reflect current data showing that there is no safe blood lead level in children.  In particular, the working group recommended that the CDC lower the benchmark for responsive action to an elevated blood lead level of only five micrograms per deciliter. The working group also recommended that the CDC take action, every four years, to update this recommended action level, as appropriate, based on the most recent data available.

Although the CDC had updated its own agency recommendations on children’s blood lead levels, the state DOH had not similarly revised its regulations to this effect, and it continues to determine the necessity for responsive action based on the outdated blood lead “level of concern” of 10 micrograms per deciliter.

The Bill

The bill would revise the current state law pertaining to childhood lead poisoning by requiring the DOH to make its regulations on elevated blood lead levels consistent with the current position of the CDC. In doing so, the bill would define the term “elevated blood lead level” to mean a level of lead in the bloodstream that equals or exceeds five micrograms per deciliter, or another amount as may be identified in the most recent CDC recommendations, which necessitates the undertaking of responsive action.

The bill would expressly require the DOH’s rules and regulations regarding elevated blood lead levels to be consistent with the CDC’s recommendations, and it would further require the DOH, within 30 days after the bill’s date of enactment, and on at least a biennial basis thereafter, to review and revise these rules and regulations, in order to ensure that they comport with the latest CDC guidance on this issue.

Additionally, the bill would specify that the DOH’s public information campaign on lead screening is to: (1) highlight the importance of lead screening, and encourage parents, especially those who have not yet complied with the screening provisions of this act, to have their children screened for lead poisoning at regular intervals, in accordance with the age-based timeframes established by department regulation; and (2) provide for the widespread dissemination of information to parents and health care providers on the dangers of lead poisoning, the factors that contribute to lead poisoning, the recommended ages at which children should be tested for lead poisoning, and the elevated blood lead levels that will necessitate responsive action under this act.

If the DOH changes the elevated blood lead levels that are required for responsive action, as may be necessary to conform its regulations to federal guidance, the information disseminated through the public information campaign would need to be revised and reissued within 30 days thereafter.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee May 12.  The Senate version of the legislation was approved by the Senate back in March by a vote of 37-2.  The legislation now awaits final legislative approval from the full Assembly.  NJPSA supports this measure.