CONCORD — A state agency apologized Thursday after about 300 families were mistakenly informed that blood tests of their children showed elevated levels of lead.
The Department of Health and Human Services is required to notify parents when a blood lead level of 3 micrograms per deciliter or higher is found. The letters were incorrectly sent because of a software error, said Lisa Morris, director of the state’s Division of Public Health Services.
“We understand that this caused families some confusion and concern and we apologize,” she said in a phone interview with the Union Leader. “It is not something we would have wanted to happen.”
The blood tests are reported to the state from doctor’s offices and laboratories from across the state. Many of those providers informed the state of the error after hearing from patients worried about the letter, Morris said.
“We are doing a manual check to make sure that there aren’t any more issues,” she said.
On Sept. 10, the department sent letters to 411 families — 297 in error and 114 correct. As of July 1, the state’s “action level” for lead was reduced from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 7.5 under a new law signed in February 2018. Levels above the 7.5 micrograms per deciliter require active case management, a home visit and an environmental investigation.
New letters were sent this week to families who received the erroneous notice.
The letters sent to families showing lead levels between 3 and 7.4 micrograms per deciliter provide about eight steps families can take, including having their home tested, remove the lead and proper cleaning.
In 2017, the state reported 652 children under 6 years old with elevated 5 micrograms per deciliter blood lead levels or higher.
The 2018 law reduced the blood lead level to be reported to 3 micrograms per deciliter. The law requires providers to conduct blood lead level tests for all 1- and 2-year-old children.
“It wreaks havoc with their cognitive development, so you see low IQ, behavior problems, you see poor impulse control and then later on in early elementary school it results in having a hard time learning to read and having a hard time in math,” said Beverly Drouin, section administrator for the Healthy Homes & Environment Section.
As of July 1, all public and private schools and licensed child care facilities are required to test their drinking water every five years.
The major factor of lead exposure comes from homes built before 1978, when lead paint was banned.
“We are the oldest part of the country,” Drouin said. “Fifty-four percent of the housing stock in New Hampshire was built before ‘78.”
Morris said the problem should not happen again.
“We are currently changing the system so this will not happen again,” she said.