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America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016

Lead in the Blood of Children

Lead is a major environmental health hazard for children. Childhood exposure to lead contributes to reduced IQ and academic achievement and behavioral problems. 41, 42 The chief sources of exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint in homes, water from leaded pipes, and consumer products.42, 43, 44 Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead because of their developing nervous systems and their hand-to-mouth behavior. A blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) is defined as "elevated" for purposes of identifying children for follow-up, but no level of lead exposure can be considered safe.42, 43, 45 Blood lead levels have declined since the 1970s, due largely to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. Yet in 2005–2006, 15 percent of U.S. homes with young children had indoor lead hazards, including lead-based paint.46, 47 Children with nutritional deficiencies or living in poverty or older housing are more likely to have elevated blood lead levels.42, 43

Figure 14: Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin, 1999–2006 and 2007–2014
Percentage of children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL by race and Hispanic origin, 1999–2006 and 2007–2014	x

* Estimate is considered unstable (relative standard error is greater than 30 percent but less than 40 percent).

NOTE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently uses 5 µg/dL as a reference level to identify children with elevated blood lead levels. Estimates are based on eight years of data to improve reliability of the estimates. Persons of Mexican American origin may be of any race. Data on race and Hispanic origin are collected separately and combined for reporting according to the 1997 Office of Management and Budget Standards for Data on Race and Ethnicity. Beginning in 2007, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey allows for reporting of both total Hispanics and Mexican Americans; however, estimates reported here are for Mexican Americans to be consistent with earlier years.

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

  • In 2007–2014, 1.9 percent of children ages 1–5 (approximately 390,000 children) had blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL. Among Black, non-Hispanic children ages 1–5, 4.0 percent had elevated blood lead levels, compared with 1.9 percent of White, non-Hispanic children and 1.1 percent of Mexican American children. In 2007–2014, Black, non-Hispanic children ages 1–5 were twice as likely as White, non-Hispanic children and three times as likely as Mexican American children to have elevated blood lead levels.
  • Between 1999–2006 and 2007–2014, the percentage of all children ages 1–5 with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL declined by approximately 4 percentage points. Black, non-Hispanic and Mexican American children also had large declines in the percentage with elevated blood lead levels between these two time periods, by 10 percentage points and 3 percentage points, respectively. However, the percentage of White, non-Hispanic children ages 1–5 with elevated blood lead levels was not statistically different between 1999–2006 and 2007–2014.
  • In both 1999–2006 and 2007–2014, Black, non-Hispanic children were more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than White, non-Hispanic and Mexican American children.

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41 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of the National Toxicology Program, Office of Health Assessment and Translation. (2012). NTP monograph on health effects of low-level lead. Retrieved from http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/36443

42 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. (2012). Low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/ACCLPP/Final_Document_030712.pdf

43 Wheeler, W., & Brown, M. J. (2013). Blood lead levels in children aged 1–5 years—United States, 1999–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(13), 245–248. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6213a3.htm

44 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). 2013 Final report: Integrated science assessment for lead (EPA/600/R-10/075F), Washington, DC: Author. Retrieve from http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/risk/recordisplay.cfm?deid=255721

45 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. (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." Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/cdc_response_lead_exposure_recs.pdf

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

47 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). America's children and the environment, third edition (EPA Report No. 240-R-13-001). Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/ace