Blood lead levels by birth year: facts & figures

Children with elevated blood lead levels in Minnesota:

Indicators on this page track elevated blood lead levels by birth year (cohort method) and include blood lead tests up to 3 years of age.

Children should be tested for lead

There is no safe level of lead. It is important to test for elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) because lead exposure often occurs with no identifiable symptoms. Lead testing is not universal in Minnesota. Children with risk factors for lead exposure are targeted for testing. 

Elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) among Minnesota children tested, by birth year

Among children tested by 3 years of age. The definition of an elevated blood lead level recently changed from 10 to 5 mcg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood). Source: MDH Blood Lead Information System.

This chart shows the trend over time in children above the historic reference level of 10 mcg/dL as well as those more recently above the new reference level of 5 mcg/dL. The reference level was lowered in 2011 to identify children with levels much higher than most children. In Minnesota, 1% of children born in 2012 (about 10 children out of 1,000) had an elevated blood lead level among those that were tested by 3 years.

The percent of children tested who had an elevated blood lead level over the historic reference level of 10 mcg/dL decreased by about 80% between children born in 2000 and those born in 2009. The percent of children with a blood lead level over the current reference level of 5 mcg/dL decreased slightly between children born in 2008 and those born in 2012, a trend in the right direction.

Elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) among children tested, by Minnesota region

Among children tested by 3 years of age. The definition of an elevated blood lead level recently changed from 10 to 5 mcg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood). The Minnesota trend line is the statewide average and includes all Minnesota children. The Metro trend line represents children living in the 7-county Twin Cities metropolitan area except for the cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Source: MDH Blood Lead Information System. 

These charts show the percent of children with an elevated blood lead level in Minnesota, both statewide and for 3 different regions within the state.

  • The Minneapolis/St. Paul trend line represents children at a higher risk for lead exposure and MDH recommends children living within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul receive blood lead testing at 1 and 2 years of age. Among children born in 2012, 2.5% of children in Minneapolis or St. Paul (or 25 of every 1,000 children) had an EBLL, which is much higher than any other region of the state or the statewide average, despite a greater proportion of children likely tested.
  • The Metro trend line represents children living in the 7-county Twin Cities metropolitan area except for the cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Children in this region have only half a percent of children with an EBLL (or about 5 of every 1,000 children), among children born in 2012.
  • The greater Minnesota trend line represents children living in Minnesota outside of the metro. Less than a percent of children from the 2012 birth year and living in greater Minnesota have an EBLL (or about 8 of every 1,000 children).

The “5+ Chart” shows the trend in the percent of children above the current reference level of 5 mcg/dL. The “10+ Chart” shows the trend in the percent of children above the historic reference level of 10 mcg/dL. The percent of children with EBLLs greater than 5 mcg/dL has been around 1% of those tested in each birth year, since the 2008 birth year. The percent of children with EBLLs greater than 10 mcg/dL has declined over time, both statewide and in the regions displayed.

Elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) among Minnesota children tested, by EBLL category

Among children tested by 3 years of age. The definition of an elevated blood lead level recently changed from 10 to 5 mcg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood). Source: MDH Blood Lead Information System.


This chart shows the number of children with an elevated blood lead level, for each category, among children tested prior to 3 years. Since the reference level lowered to 5 mcg/dL in 2011, children with levels 5-9 mcg/dL are only displayed starting with the 2008 birth year.

The number of children with those higher blood lead levels has generally declined over time. Though very few children test in the highest ranges of blood lead levels, these levels are associated with additional and more extreme health effects, such as extreme problems with brain function called encephalopathy, severe neurological damage, coma, and even death.

However, there is no safe level of lead. Among children born in 2012, there were nearly 400 children tested before 3 years of age with an elevated level between 5 and 10 mcg/dL.

To see other tables and charts on childhood lead exposure, see: