Lead: facts & figures

Lead levels in the U.S. population


Blood lead levels in the U.S. population

Data source: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Between 2000 and 2012, the median blood lead level decreased from 1.6 mcg/dL to 0.9  mcg/dL. In people with the highest lead levels, the 95th percentile, a larger decrease was seen. Even so, 5% of the population still had blood lead levels higher than 3.2 mcg/dL in 2012.


Blood lead levels in the U.S. population by age

Median blood lead levels in mcg/dL. Data source: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-12.

Children 1-5 years and adults 20 years and older have higher median blood levels than other age groups. Lead exposures in young children are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing.


Blood lead levels in the U.S. population by race/ethnicity

Geometric mean blood lead levels in mcg/dL. Data are from a 2013 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data for children 1-5 years.

Blood lead levels in non-Hispanic black children are consistently higher than in Mexican American and non-Hispanic white children. This disparity has been linked to factors such as differing housing quality and environmental conditions. Biomonitoring data for other racial/ethnic groups are not available across this time period.


Blood lead levels in U.S. children by Medicaid status

Geometric mean blood lead levels in mcg/dL. Data are from a 2013 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data for children 1-5 years.

Children who are enrolled in Medicaid have higher blood lead levels compared to children who are not. The gap between the groups has decreased over time, but children who receive this public health care assistance were still more highly exposed in 2007-2010. A similar trend can be seen in blood lead by income (data not shown).


We are exposed to lead in many ways

Lead is a natural metal found in the earth’s crust and in man-made products. It enters our environment as the result of human activities. Lead can be found in the air we breathe, homes and communities in which we live, places we work, and our water and food.

Children are most often exposed to lead in older homes that contain lead-based paint. For adults, workplace and hobby exposures are most common.

Exposure to lead can harm your health

Lead affects many systems in the body, including the nervous system. At very high levels, it can cause severe brain and kidney damage and even death.

In children, lead exposure is linked to learning impairment and behavioral problems. There is no safe level of lead exposure.

Biomonitoring measures lead in people

Biomonitoring measures the amount of lead in people's blood and urine. In Minnesota, 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL) or higher is considered an “elevated blood level.”

What is being done about lead in Minnesota?


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