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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

Dec 2, 2021 - Health

CDC: Data suggests 1 in 44 children diagnosed with autism

The Empire State Building is lit in blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2021. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images for Autism Speaks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its statistics on autism spectrum disorder, now showing that more children get diagnosed with the condition and at younger ages.

By the numbers: About 1 in 44 8-year-old children have been diagnosed with autism, according to a recent CDC study analyzing 2018 data from 11 states.

Blood shortage hits Nashville

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University Medical Center

A blood shortage in the Nashville area reached such a crisis level that Vanderbilt University Medical Center deputy CEO Wright Pinson told employees their help was "urgently needed" in upcoming blood drives by the American Red Cross.

Kate Marino, author of Markets
51 mins ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

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