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Childhood Lead Poisoning

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Lead can harm the brain, kidneys, and nervous system of children. Even low levels of lead can make it hard for children to learn, pay attention, and behave. Because lead poisoning often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it often goes unrecognized. A simple screening test is the only way to identify a child with elevated blood lead levels. For this reason, a state law (i.e., the Massachusetts Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Act) requires all children up to age 3 years (up to 4 years old for those children in high risk communities) to have a blood test. All children must show proof of screening at least once in order to enter daycare, pre-kindergarten programs, and kindergarten. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) to identify children with blood lead levels higher than most children’s levels. This new level is based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the highest 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood. This reference level is used to identify children who have been exposed to lead and who require case management by public health officials.

Lead paint continues to be the most important source of elevated blood lead levels in children. The older a home (house or apartment), the more likely it is to contain lead paint. Deteriorating paint (chipping, flaking, and peeling) and paint disturbed during home remodeling often results in the release of tiny paint chips and lead dust that children get onto their hands and into their mouth.

If you have questions about having your child screened for lead or questions about your child's blood lead test results, please read the FAQs. The FAQs also include a link to the Massachusetts Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP), which provides a range of prevention and information services to Massachusetts families. The CLPPP website also has reports detailing high risk communities in the state. Children living in high risk communities are at greater risk for lead poisoning due to a larger proportion of older homes and families with low to moderate income. The CLPPP assesses a community’s risk level annually. To access the most recent high risk community listing, click here.

Did You Know?
Over 7,000 homes were inspected for lead paint and more than 50% were found to have a lead paint problem that could place children at risk. Source: Massachusetts Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program 2014 FY data

Data on childhood blood lead poisoning is presented by calendar year. Data by calendar year provides blood lead screening percentages and blood lead level prevalence rates based on the year in which the child was tested. If a child had multiple tests within the same calendar year, only the highest test is included for that year.

Childhood lead data are maintained by the CLPPP at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This website summarizes over two million blood tests taken since 2001.

Data Considerations

When reviewing and interpreting childhood blood lead data, it is important to take into consideration the following:

  • Blood lead prevalence results are only based on those children who have been screened. While the percentage of children screened in Massachusetts is greater than in any other state, the blood lead prevalence results should be interpreted considering the screening percentage for the geographic area of interest.
  • When comparing rates across geographic areas, a variety of non-environmental factors, such as screening rates, can impact the prevalence of blood lead levels in children.
  • Prevalence is based on the residential location of the cases and not necessarily the location of the source of exposure.
  • Numbers and rates may differ slightly from those contained in other publications. These differences may be due to file updates, differences in calculating rates, diagnostic techniques reported, and updates in population estimates.

For additional information, please read the FAQ.

Available Data on Childhood Blood Lead Levels

Use the Explore Maps & Tables link on this page to access the following measures for childhood blood lead levels in your community. The most current available data will be shown. Be sure to check the site periodically as new data are added each year.

To protect privacy, no information is shown that could identify an individual.

  • Number and percent screened by location and single or range of years
  • Maps and charts of screening rates
  • Number and prevalence of blood lead levels by location and single or range of years
  • All of the above measures are available by census tract, community, county, EOHHS Region, EP Regional Coalitions, and statewide