New Data Highlight Effects of Universal Blood Lead Testing Policy

January 22, 2021

Trend chart of the percentage of children with a blood lead test.

The Maine Tracking Network released 2019 data about childhood lead poisoning and blood lead testing - reminding public health professionals of the importance of testing all children for lead poisoning at ages 1 and 2. The additional year of data allows users to see the effects of a 2019 change to Maine law requiring universal blood lead testing of 1- and 2-year-olds.  Blood lead testing is the only way to identify if a child has lead poisoning and is the first step to ensuring lead-poisoned children receive public health services to mitigate their exposure to lead.

Testing Increases after Policy Change

The new data show that the percentage of 1-year-olds tested for lead poisoning increased from 52% to 60% in 2019.  The percentage of 2-year-olds tested increased as well; however, disparities remain between the age groups even though the new law requires testing for children in both age groups. In 2019, only 37% of 2-year-olds were tested for lead poisoning.

Testing Differs by LocationMap of the percentage of 1-year-olds with a blood lead test in 2019 by county.

County- and town-level maps on the Maine TrackingNetwork help visualize geographic differences in blood lead testing. For example, in Washington County, providers tested nearly all 1-year-olds for lead poisoning compared to only 43% of 1-year-olds in Sagadahoc County.

The Importance of Confirmation Testing

Universal blood lead testing at the ages when children are most at risk for lead poisoning is an important first step in protecting children from the effects of exposure to lead, but many children require additional confirmatory testing to receive public health services. Initial blood lead tests are often capillary, or ‘finger prick’ tests, which are more prone to contamination. When an initial capillary test result is found to be elevated (above 5 ug/dL), it must be confirmed with a more reliable venous test. Maine CDC’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Unit can only provide services to identify and remove sources of a child’s lead exposure when providers confirm elevated capillary tests with venous tests.

In 2019, there were nearly 150 children with an elevated capillary blood lead test result who did not receive a timely confirmatory venous blood lead test. With the newly available data on the Maine Tracking Network, users can explore data for the state, counties, and towns about how many children had unconfirmed blood lead tests and were not able to access free lead investigation services from Maine CDC. As children catch up on well child visits missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for families and providers to test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead poisoning and confirm any capillary results of 5 ug/dL or higher.

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