Kidsdata.org provides the number and percentage of children under the age of 20 who were tested and found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Medicaid and state regulations require that every child covered by a government-funded health program be preventively screened for lead poisoning twice, once at 12 months old and again at age 2. A screening consists of a blood test administered in a health care setting. When blood tests are missed, health care providers are required to screen the child at the first opportunity up until age 6. In addition, it is recommended that health professionals screen any children or youth who exhibit symptoms of lead exposure, have known lead exposure, and who are considered to be at risk for lead exposure.
Note: The information presented for this topic is not exhaustive of all relevant data, and has limitations. Kidsdata offers these and other data to draw attention to the
environmental influences on children's health and to encourage
exploration of the
issues. These indicators will be revised as new data emerge from
initiatives such as the National Children's Study and are updated in the California Environmental Health Tracking Program site.
Exposure to lead, found mostly in old/chipping paint and contaminated soil, is related to low IQ scores, behavioral problems, seizures, coma, and even death at different levels of exposure (1). A blood lead level of 9.5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or greater is considered elevated, but adverse health effects can occur at much lower concentrations (1, 2). Therefore, most governments agree that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
Children are especially vulnerable to toxic substances, such as lead, as their systems are more fragile and their skin is more permeable (3). Young children also come into greater contact with toxins by playing or crawling on the ground, and through hand-mouth contact (1, 3).
For more information on lead poisoning see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
- Godwin, H. (2009). Southern California environmental report card: Lead exposure and poisoning in children. UCLA Institute of the Environment. Retrieved from: http://www.environment.ucla.edu/reportcard/article.asp?parentid=3772
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2005). Preventing lead poisoning in young children. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/prevleadpoisoning.pdf
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2007). A decade of children's environmental health research: Highlights from EPA's Science to Achieve Results Program. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/research_results_synthesis/
Pound for pound, children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals in
the environment than are adults (1). Toxins that may be present in the
air they breathe, in water and beverages they drink, in the food they
eat and in the ground on which they play can harm their health.
According to research and experts, policies to improve children’s environmental health, overall, could include:
- Creating healthier school environments by setting appropriate
construction standards and fixing structural problems in existing
- Establishing and implementing improved standards and guidelines
for school environmental health, addressing areas such as building
ventilation, mold prevention, routine cleaning and maintenance, managing
chemical exposure, and controlling pests (2)
- Focusing broadly on multiple deficiencies and hazards in housing
environments and early childhood settings—for example, advancing
strategic partnerships among organizations focused on health, education,
environmental protection, and housing—instead of focusing on single
factors, such as lead or asbestos exposure (3, 4)
- Promoting a research agenda that examines
the connections between the built environment and physical and
behavioral health, to inform land use policy and regulation of
environmental toxins (5)
- Enforcing existing laws and regulations
that limit vehicle emissions, agricultural practices that generate dust
and pesticide exposure, and industrial practices that generate air
For more policy ideas on environmental health, see the California Adolescent Health Collaborative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Homes Initiative, the California Department of Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, and the Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Also see policy implications under the Asthma topic on kidsdata.org.
Sources for this narrative:
- Landrigan, P. J., & Carlson, J. E. (1995). Environmental policy and children’s health. Future of Children, (5)2, 34-52. Princeton University and Brookings Institution. Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/05_02_04.pdf
- California Air Resources Board and California Department of Health Care Services. (2004). Report to the California legislature: Environmental health conditions in California’s portable classrooms. Retrieved from: http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/apr/reports/l3006.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Homes Initiative. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/healthyhomes.htm
- Bachrach, A., et al. (2010). Environmental health in early childhood systems building: opportunities for states. National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from: http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_981.pdf
- Lane, S. D., et al. (2008). Environmental injustice: childhood lead poisoning, teen pregnancy, and tobacco. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(1), 43-49. Retrieved from: http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X%2807%2900294-7/abstract
- Salam, M. T., et al. (2008). Recent evidence for adverse effects of residential proximity to traffic sources on asthma. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, 14(1), 3-8. Retrieved from: http://sunscreamer.com/publiccomment/Documents/salam%20mt%20traffic%20asthma%20pulm%20opin%202008.pdf
In 2010, 2,297 children/youth in California ages 0-20 (0.3% of all children tested) were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, down from 0.6% in 2007. The vast majority of children tested are under age 6, due to government testing regulations for young children. Among those ages 0-5 screened in 2010, 0.3% (2,035 children) had elevated levels of lead in their blood, also a decline from previous years. While elevated blood lead levels are defined as 9.5 micrograms per deciliter or more, most governments agree that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
Note: Children’s environmental health is an emerging area of research,
and the data currently available give a limited picture of how children
in California are faring. In many cases, county-level data are not
specific enough to inform conclusions about children’s health risks, but
they can spark further inquiry.