Policy & Advocacy

Children At Risk From Lead Poisoning

Year Published
  • 2014
  • English

Lead is a toxic substance that can damage the kidneys, heart, and gastrointestinal system and can lead to brain damage. Although lead levels in U.S. children have fallen by 90 percent over the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is an estimated 434,000 children age 1 to 5 years old with lead poisoning, currently defined as a blood lead level greater than 10 ug/dl (micrograms per deciliter). Lead is most harmful to children under age six because it is easily absorbed into their growing bodies, and interferes with the developing brain and other organs and systems.

  • Poor families in the U.S. are eight times more likely to have signs of lead poison than those from higher income families.

  • Nationally, 60 percent of children with acute lead poisoning receive Medicaid benefits, a marker of low socioeconomic status.

  • African-American children are five times more likely to be poisoned than white children. About 22% of African-American children living in pre-1946 housing are lead poisoned, compared with 5.6% of white children and 13% of Mexican-American children living in older homes.

  • Studies have shown that children with even small amount of lead in their blood have more difficulty learning and have lower intelligence quotients (IQ) than children without lead in their blood. For every 10 ug/dl of lead in the blood, a child’s IQ may drop 2 to 4 points.

  • Researchers have shown that young men (under 18 years old) jailed for juvenile delinquency have higher levels of lead in their bodies than other young men from the same neighborhoods who have no criminal record.