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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Lead in Blood of Children

Lead is a major environmental health hazard for young children. Childhood exposure to lead contributes to learning problems (including reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) and reduced academic achievement) and behavioral problems.75 A blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) is defined as "elevated" for purposes of identifying children for follow-up activities such as environmental investigations and ongoing monitoring,76 but no level of childhood lead exposure can be considered safe,77 and adverse health effects can occur at much lower concentrations.75 Lead exposures have declined since the 1970s, due largely to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. However, in 2005–2006, 15 percent of U.S. homes with young children had indoor lead hazards, including high levels of lead in dust or deteriorated lead-based paint, which may contribute to childhood exposure.78, 79, Children ages 1–5 are particularly vulnerable because they frequently engage in hand-to-mouth behavior.

Indicator PHY4.A: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL, 1988–1994, 1999–2002, 2003–2006, 2007–2010, and 2011–2014
Indicator PHY4.A: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL, 1988–1994, 1999–2002, 2003–2006, 2007–2010, and 2011–2014s

NOTE: The reference level of 5 µg/dL is the 97.5th percentile of blood lead levels for children ages 1–5 in 2005–2008. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently uses this reference level to identify children with elevated blood lead levels.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Indicator PHY4.B: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin80 and poverty status, 2009–2014
Indicator PHY4.B: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin and poverty status, 2009–2014

NOTE: CDC currently uses 5 µg/dL as a reference level to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. Beginning in 2007, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey allows the reporting of both total Hispanics and Mexican Americans; however, estimates reported here are for Mexican Americans to be consistent with earlier years. Persons of Mexican American origin may be of any race.

SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

  • About 1 percent of children ages 1–5 had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL in 2011–2014, compared with 26 percent in 1988–1994.
  • Three percent of Black, non-Hispanic children had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL in 2009–2014. About 1 percent of White, non-Hispanic children and 1 percent of Mexican American children had elevated blood lead levels. The percentage of Black, non-Hispanic children with elevated blood lead levels was statistically significantly greater than the percentage of Mexican American children.
  • Three percent of children living in poverty had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL in 2009–2014, compared with 1 percent of children living above the poverty level.

table icon PHY4A Brief HTML Table | PHY4B Brief HTML Table

75 National Toxicology Program. (2012). NTP monograph on health effects of low-level lead. Research Triangle Park, NC: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Toxicology Program. Retrieved from http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/36443

76 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). CDC response to advisory committee on childhood lead poisoning prevention recommendations in "Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention." Atlanta, GA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/cdc_response_lead_exposure_recs.pdf

77 Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. (2012). Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/ACCLPP/final_Document_030712.pdf

78 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2011). American Healthy Homes Survey: Lead and arsenic findings. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=AHHS_REPORT.pdf

79 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). America's Children and the environment (3rd ed.). Available at http://www.epa.gov/ace

80 For 2009–2014, the revised 1997 U.S. Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity were used. Persons could select one or more of five racial groups: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Included in the total but not shown separately are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and "Two or more races." Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately but combined for reporting. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.