LOS ANGELES -- The standard for what constitutes lead poisoning in children has been sharply lowered for the first time in 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.
In a posting on its website, the Atlanta-based center announced the change, which follows recommendations made in January by an advisory panel.
The significance of the decision, however, remained unclear, because the CDC also noted that it lacks the funds to pay for more testing or to locate and decontaminate sites that may be tainted.
The new standard defines poisoning as 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood; the old standard was 10 micrograms for children younger than 6.
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Lead poisoning is often associated with old urban areas, where children can ingest lead-based paint chips or dust during renovations of aging houses.
Lead has been banned in paint since 1978. Lead can also come from dust at work sites and from leaded gasoline.
Officials estimate that 77,000 to 255,000 children have high levels of lead, though determining the exact figure is complicated because so many cases are undiagnosed.
The new standard could raise the toll to as many as 450,000.