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Lead poisoning, once epidemic among Baltimore’s poor, is now much now less common, but it is still claiming young victims years after authorities vowed to eradicate it. At least 4,900 Maryland children have been poisoned by lead in the past decade, their brains exposed to a toxic contaminant that often causes lasting learning and behavioral problems. (Baltimore Sun video)

The number of Maryland children who tested positive for lead poisoning fell 11% in 2018, state health and environmental officials said Wednesday.

The number of children with at least 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the standard benchmark for determining lead poisoning, fell from 2,049 in 2017 to 1,825 last year. But the number of children found with the highest levels of lead contamination was virtually unchanged, at nearly 400 cases.

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Lead poisoning cases have declined steadily in the state in recent years, even as surveillance for the neurotoxin has increased under a 2016 state law requiring that all 1- and 2-year-olds be tested. About half of Maryland children 2 and under were tested for lead poisoning last year, the report said, about the same rate the state reported in 2017 and 5 percentage points higher than the rate in 2016, the first year of the universal testing requirement.

Ruth Ann Norton, CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, said work to combat lead poisoning is showing progress but more has to be done. She said in a statement the state "must now target greater resources at the homes and sources of lead that we know remain hazardous.

“It is far past time to bring an end to the toxic legacy of lead poisoning in Maryland,” she said.

No level of lead exposure is considered safe, and can cause developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability and loss of appetite.

Officials said they hope to further reduce lead poisoning under a state law that went into effect this month requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment to notify parents, guardians and property owners when children are found to have elevated lead levels in an apartment building or other residences. And starting July 1, children who test positive for lead poisoning will receive case management services from the state.

Chevy Chase based Access Funding made millions of dollars from deals with victims of lead poisoning.
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