The risk of lead exposure in a neighborhood is linked to the area’s poverty level and how old its homes are, according to researchers.
The news website Vox created a nationwide map to estimate the risk of lead exposure in different neighborhoods, based on a formula developed by Washington State’s Department of Health. According to its epidemiologists, lead paint is more common in older homes, and children in poverty tend to have more contact with lead.
Trend CT has previously noted high correlations between the number of children with high lead levels in their bloodstreams and the number of people living in poverty, renter-occupied homes and in towns with majority minorities.
But replicating the map at the census-tract level allows for greater insight and could help officials decide where to focus resources in Connecticut.
Large urban areas like New Haven and Hartford have some of the highest risks for lead exposure, and the data on children who test positive for high lead levels in their blood reflects that. But the formula indicates there’s also high risk in pockets of towns like Mansfield, Norwich and Danbury.
After applying the formula to towns and comparing it to the number of children reported to have high lead levels, we found a strong correlation between the estimate and the actuality (a coefficient of about .57).
Exposure to lead can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells and kidneys, especially for young children and pregnant women.
Doctors are required by law to screen children for lead annually between 9 and 35 months of age. Health officials must be notified if a child has five or more micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).
Children are especially susceptible to lead exposure because their bodies absorb it at higher rates than the average adult. Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause lowered IQ, and hearing impairment, and can affect performance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lead in drinking water
According to our analysis, there’s a closer link between lead poisoning and old buildings or poverty than to drinking water systems with high lead levels.
This is in line with findings by the Connecticut Department of Health in 2013.
Though the tragedy in Flint, Mich., where thousands of children drank toxic water in their homes and schools, has increased awareness of lead in public drinking water systems, Connecticut officials did not trace any of the 140 cases of lead-poisoned children it investigated in 2013 back to drinking water.
Most cases were attributed to paint- and dust-related hazards.