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NEWS: TDSHS Report fails to point out that blood lead levels of tested Frisco children are 60% higher than Texas norm

The amount of lead found in the blood of Frisco children tested by the Texas Department of State Health Services is 60% higher than the norm for children across Texas, and it is a major issue of concern that is not mentioned in its new Frisco community fact sheet, one of the world’s top lead toxicity research scientists told TDSHS officials in comments criticizing how the agency conducted and reported results of blood lead testing in Frisco.

The TDSHS conducted blood lead testing in Frisco last March in response to the Environmental Protection Agency originally designating a 2.4 square mile area around the Exide Technologies lead battery recycling plant as being in violation of more stringent lead emission pollution standards. The Exide plant is located near the center of Frisco, and the nonattainment area includes residential areas, schools and playgrounds.  Frisco children also were included in blood lead testing the TDSHS conducted in 2010.

TDSHS officials will present the agency’s report and fact sheet to Frisco citizens during a Blood Lead Testing Clinic Community meeting at Frisco City Council Chambers tomorrow, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m.

“There are many questions concerning the methodology for the sample collection, the size and demographics of the population sampled,” Howard Mileke, Ph.D., and research professor at Tulane University’s Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, told officials. “Because important details are lacking, the TDSHS fact sheet is unusable to citizens and policy makers of the City of Frisco for establishing primary prevention priorities for the community.”

While the TSDHS report did not indicate any “unusual” community wide exposure to lead in Frisco, Mileke told officials that they downplayed critical information in their own fact sheet that indicated 24% of Frisco children have blood lead levels in excess of 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

This is very important information for parents and the community to be aware of because the Center for Disease Control states that there is no safe level of lead exposure for humans. Lead is a neurotoxic metal that affects areas of the brain that regulate behavior and nerve cell and cognitive development. Children, infants and fetuses are more vulnerable to the effects of lead because the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed, and lead is more readily absorbed into a child’s bloodstream. Thus, a smaller amount of lead will have a greater effect on children than adults.

Lead exposure is especially toxic for children under the age of five years old.
The primary measure of lead exposure is the amount of lead found in blood, referred to as blood lead level. Research now shows that a blood lead level of  2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood or higher can cause nerve cell damage in young children. Lead is a very potent neurotoxin, and research findings show that a one-unit rise in blood lead level reduces a student’s Grade Point Average by 1/10 of a percent. Overall, in an editorial in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal, scientists reported that low-level environmental exposure to lead has been unmasked as a “silent killer”.

The TSDHS Frisco Blood Lead Testing Fact Sheet notes that the agency maintains a registry of blood lead tests conducted on children in Texas. Of the 485,274 children under the age of 15 tested in 2010, 85% had blood lead levels less than or equal to 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Those test results included 711 Frisco children, and the while the TDSHS reported that 76% of the children had blood lead levels less than or equal to 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, it failed to point out that 24% of the tested Frisco children showed blood lead levels in excess of 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Also, the agency did not break out the number of children who showed blood lead levels equal to 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Mileke, whose lead toxicity research played a key role in getting lead removed from gasoline and in starting a national precedence to clean up playgrounds to help protect children from lead exposure, told TSDHD officials that one of the major flaws in its Frisco report is that it fails to provide the basic facts about the exposure of Frisco’s youngest children to lead. “The TDSHS lumps all ages less than 15, and this is inappropriate,” he said. “ By lumping children less than six with children six to 14, the TDSHS makes light of the lead exposure problem of the youngest, most sensitive age group.”

The common way of recording blood lead levels is by age less than six years old. The National Health and Examination Survey defines “children” as less than 6 years of age (<72 months), not less than 180 months (15 years), as was done in the TDSHS report.

Mileke also criticized the TSDHS report because it failed to provide information about the community distribution of the children’s blood lead. “Aggregating blood lead results of children less than age six by U.S. Census tract would assist in guiding policy decision for evaluating which communities of Frisco children experience higher or lower blood lead levels,” he said. Such reporting of blood lead levels by U.S. Census tract is a common research and planning tool used by other communities throughout the United States.

In addition to not alerting the Frisco community to the fact that more children in its community are showing highly toxic and damaging levels of lead in their blood than other children across Texas, the TSDHS report also provided no insight into the age breakdown of impacted youth, nor did it provide any geographical guidance that could help citizens and City officials better understand the location of the Frisco neighborhoods with children most impacted by high levels of lead exposure.

In the conclusion of his comments about the TSDHS report, Mileke said, “The most important steps that can be taken now by the Frisco community are to:

1) Reduce lead emissions from the Exide lead smelter as low as technically possible, which is less than 20 pounds per year;

2) Document the extent of legacy lead in the community through comprehensive lead mapping and detailed blood lead screening to monitor the situation; and

3) Intervene on properties contaminated with legacy lead to prevent and minimize exposure to lead.”


Howard Mileke Comments on Flaws in TDSHS Frisco Blood Lead Testing Report



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