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Expand chart
Reproduced from JAMA Pediatrics; Map: Axios Visuals

More than half of children under 6 years old in the U.S. had detectable lead levels in their blood, with exposures much higher from children in communities with pre-1950s housing or with public insurance or high poverty rates, a new study found.

Why it matters: The study, published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, is the first known national analysis investigating the "association of lead exposure with individual- and community-level factors."

The big picture: A blood lead concentration as low as five micrograms per deciliter can affect the long-term cognitive development of children, which can lead to lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

  • The CDC and the World Health Organization concluded in 2019 there is no safe level of lead exposure.
  • Prior studies have shown that if U.S. children born in 2018 had blood lead levels of zero, it would result in an overall benefit of approximately $84 billion during their lifetimes due to increased productivity and decreases in health care, education and criminal justice system costs.

By the numbers: Researchers analyzed blood lead tests given to 1.14 million U.S. children by Quest Diagnostics between October 2018 and February 2020, with nearly 2% having blood lead levels greater than or equal to five micrograms per deciliter.

  • The highest proportions of children with some detectable lead were found in Nebraska at 83%, Missouri at 82%, Michigan at 78%, Iowa at 76% and Utah at 73%.
  • Nearly 58% of children from predominately Black ZIP codes and 56% of children from predominately Hispanic ZIP codes had detectable blood lead levels compared to 49% from predominately white ZIP codes. 

What they're saying: "These findings confirm that we still have a long way to go to end childhood lead poisoning in the United States," Philip Landrigan and David Bellinger write in a corresponding editorial also published Monday.

  • "They reconfirm the unacceptable presence of stark disparities in children's lead exposure by race, ethnicity, income, and ZIP code — many of them the cruel legacy of decades of structural racism — a legacy that falls most harshly on the children and families in our society with the fewest resources."

What to watch: The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced it will train contractors working in low-income and other underserved neighborhoods for free on how to rid pre-1970s housing from lead.

  • Lead-based paint and the dust it produces as it wears down remains the predominant source of children’s lead exposure.
  • The Biden administration also proposed this year to remove and replace all lead water pipes across the U.S.

The bottom line: Although lead exposures have significantly decreased since the 1970s after it was removed from gasoline and new paint, harmful exposure persists.

Go deeper

Oct 17, 2021 - Health

Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in an "Axios on HBO" interview, said he's reluctant to withhold federal funding from states that won't enforce school mask mandates because he doesn't want to hurt students.

Why it matters: Cardona's comments suggest there are limits to how far the Biden administration will go in pressuring states to adopt universal masking — or vaccine mandates.

Beauty giant Coty Cosmetics looking to sell its own branded products

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi. Photo: Axios on HBO

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi tells Axios the beauty giant will “probably” introduce Coty-branded products one day.

Why it matters: Coty produces some of the world’s most popular fragrances, skin care products and color cosmetics on behalf of other well-known brands, but has shied away from producing its own branded products.

1 hour ago - Sports

NFL to end race-based testing in concussion settlements

Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The National Football League on Wednesday reached an agreement with former players to end the controversial practice of race-based adjustments in dementia testing, AP reports.

Why it matters: The deal, which must still be approved by a judge, comes amid a broader discussion of racial inequities in health care.

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