Study Finds Higher Blood Lead Levels Among Children Living in Racially Segregated Communities

Children who live in segregated communities face more lead exposure from old lead paint and drinking water pipes, researchers found.

The findings of a new study highlight the continuing racial disparity in the risk of lead poisoning among Americans, finding that children living in racially segregated neighborhoods are more likely to have high levels of toxic lead in their blood, especially among Black children.

In the 1990s, researchers warned that children living in segregated communities had elevated blood lead levels. However, new research suggests that not much has changed, according to the findings of a study published last month in the medical journal Pediatrics, which evaluated data from 2015.

Not only has racial segregation endured in many communities, especially in the North Carolina communities studied, but children living in Black-segregated communities continue to have elevated blood lead levels, putting them at risk of lead poisoning and a myriad health problems, researchers warn.

Learn More About

Lead Poisoning Lawsuits

Children diagnosed with lead poisoning after exposure to peeling or chipping lead paint in a rental home may be entitled to financial compensation and benefits.


Segregation and Lead Blood Levels

Most Americans view racial segregation as an issue of the past, but it is a practice that continues to this day and is rooted in historical practices like “redlining” that isolated Black residents into neighborhoods with no investment opportunities and high poverty rates.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame’s Children’s Environmental Health Initiative conducted a population-based observational study. They examined blood lead records from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for nearly 321,000 children under 7 years old, who were tested between 1992 and 1996 or 2013 and 2015.

Blood lead levels were georeferenced using the census tract, which was also used to calculate neighborhood racial residential segregation. According to the findings, from 1990 to 2015, racial segregation of Black residents increased by 50% among 2,195 North Carolina census tracts.

From 1992 to 1996, the level of lead in Black children’s blood living in segregated communities increased by 2.86%, compared to 2.44% for white children. In the data from 2013 to 2015, for each increase in the amount of racial segregation, blood lead levels increased by 1.6% among Black children, but only 0.76% for white children.

Despite blood lead levels in children overall declining from 1990 to 2015, Black children living in racially segregated neighborhoods had a higher risk of exposure to high levels of lead, according to the findings.

Racial segregation was positively linked to an increase in blood lead levels for children living in those neighborhoods, the researchers concluded.

Childhood Lead Exposure Risks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously concluded that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially among children. Lead exposure, even at low levels, can cause health problems, including impacts on the structural integrity of the brain later in life, increased risk of kidney damage, and a slew of other health conditions.

The most common source of lead exposure is deteriorating lead-based paint in older homes built prior to 1978. Lead-based paint was banned that year, but many older homes still contain toxic paint on their walls and windowsills.

When it begins to age, lead paint chalks into dust that can be inhaled or ingested. Many young children in those aging structures eat the paint chips.

In addition, children are often exposed to lead via old drinking water pipes in poor neighborhoods. This was the case for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, that resulted in widespread lead poisoning concerns.

Across the U.S., roughly 9.2 million homes still receive their drinking water from toxic lead pipes, posing the risk of lead poisoning for children nationwide. Children in impoverished areas are more likely to be exposed to old houses, lead-based paint, and drinking water run through lead pipes, health experts warn.


"*" indicates required fields

Share Your Comments

I authorize the above comments be posted on this page*

Have Your Comments Reviewed by a Lawyer

Provide additional contact information if you want an attorney to review your comments and contact you about a potential case. This information will not be published.

NOTE: Providing information for review by an attorney does not form an attorney-client relationship.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

More Top Stories