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Questions and Answers

What is ATSDR?

ATSDR is a federal public health agency. Our full name is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Our mission is to take responsive public health actions to promote healthy and safe environments and to prevent harmful exposures. We work with communities, environmental groups, and local, state and other federal agencies to protect public health.

What was the purpose of the CDC/ATSDR study at the JT Lewis Site?

The study examined a random selection of homes in certain Philadelphia communities to find out if they have elevated environmental lead levels and if young children living in those homes also have elevated blood lead levels. CDC/ATSDR looked at levels of lead in homes to see if they could be used to predict the amount of lead in a child’s blood.

By identifying risk factors for lead exposure in Philadelphia, the study’s findings will help public health officials find better ways of determining and preventing community exposure to lead.

What agencies and organizations are involved in the study?

CDC/ATSDR worked with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health on this child blood lead and environmental health study. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided the funding for the study. Local non-governmental organizations and academic partners were also engaged in the study—New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Olde Richmond Civic Association, Fishtown Neighbors Association, and Thomas Jefferson University graduate students, among others.

How and when were the study results provided to the participants? And to the community?

Blood lead level results were provided to the parents of each child who participated or within 1-2 weeks after the sample was collected. Letters in the family’s preferred language (English or Spanish) explained results to participants and outlined steps to coordinate medical follow-up, if needed. Confirmatory venous testing was conducted for children with a BLL of 10 µg/dL or more based on CDC guidelines. Environmental sampling results with an explanation of findings were provided via US mail to parents or legal guardians within 5 months from sample collection date. CDC/ATSDR shared preliminary study findings via a factsheet, website update, and community meeting in September 2015. A summary of the final study findings was shared via a factsheet, website update, and community meetings/outreach events in early fall 2017. The final report and the journal article abstract are now available. The journal article will be posted on this website when it becomes available later in 2018.

Who do I contact for more information about the CDC/ATSDR study for the John T. Lewis Site?

Community members can call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or Ana Pomales, ATSDR Region 3 Office in Philadelphia (215-814-5716) for more information about ATSDR’s work at the John T. Lewis site in Philadelphia.

Will CDC/ATSDR do studies like this at other lead smelters sites on the Eckel’s list?

Eckel’s list refers to a journal article published in 2001 that identified former lead emitting sources nationwide. The author of the article used historic sources such as the Standard Metal Directory (1964) and Year Book of the American Bureau of Metal Statistics (1945-1973) to identify these former industries. CDC/ATSDR does not currently have plans to conduct additional health studies at other former lead smelter sites in the country.

What’s new in our final findings from what we released preliminarily in 2015?

In our preliminary results, we shared the general distribution of environmental and blood testing results for families who participated in our study. The final study results contain additional analyses using information on risk factors from the household surveys, further geospatial analyses, and contrast characteristics of our study population against the city’s information at the zip code level. The final results confirm that children living in the investigation area are more likely to have blood lead levels equal or above 5 µg/dL compared to the U.S. childhood population. Also, that children with elevated blood lead results were more likely to stay in a household built before the 1900s and have an elevated dust lead result in the entryway. Children enrolled in a government medical insurance program were also more likely to have elevated blood lead levels.

When will the final report be released?

The findings of the study will be published in a scientific journal in 2018. At that time, the final report will be released as well. It is routine practice in the scientific community to share study results via scientific journals for the benefit of other scientists working on the topic. In the spirit of cooperation and transparency with the community, we are sharing a summary of the final results in a fact sheet and website update ahead of the publishing of the scientific article. Once the scientific article and final report are released, we will notify community members and agency partners of their availability and how to access them.

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