Lead Poisoning

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Trends in Lead Poisoning

Due to increased public recognition of the hazards associated with lead, and related policy responses as well as secular changes, BLLs have decreased substantially in the past four decades. Between 1973 and 1995, gasoline containing lead was phased out, and federal regulations were enacted reducing allowable lead levels in drinking water, banning lead from paint, and restricting its use in plumbing materials, food and beverage containers, playground equipment, and various household products.

The percentage of children under the age of 6 who were tested by their physician and had elevated blood levels has fallen sharply in the past 14 years. In 1997, 7.6 percent of children tested had high blood levels; in 2015, the proportion was 0.5 percent. The percentage tested with moderate BLLs fell from 6.6 to 3.3 percent between 2010 and 2015. (Figure 1)

Other, older sources of data show a similar pattern of decreasing incidence. Between 1988 and 1991, 8.6 percent of all children ages 1 to 5 (not just the ones who were taken in for testing) had high blood lead levels. Between 1991 and 1994, 4.4 percent of all children, and between 1999 and 2004, 1.4 percent of all children ages 1 to 5 had high blood lead levels.[1] The proportion of all children, ages 1 to 5, with moderate BLLs (greater than or equal to 5 µg/dL) fell from 8.6 between 1999 and 2002 to 4.1 percent between 2003 and 2006, and then to 2.6 percent between 2007 and 2010.[2]

Although disparities in the proportion of elevated blood levels among various subpopulations of children are no longer significant, there continue to be inequities in risk for exposure to lead. In addition, mean BLLs remain higher for children in low-income families, non-Hispanic black children, and children who live in older housing.[3] In-utero exposure to lead is a significant problem among some new immigrants to the U.S.

Other Estimates

State and Local Estimates

Selected state and county estimates are available for children under age six are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

International Estimates

Data from selected European countries from 1991 to 2008 are available here.

Data and Appendices

Data Sources

Data by gender, race/ethnicity, and age: Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2003). Surveillance for elevated blood lead levels among children – United States 1997-2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 52(SS-10). Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/ss/ss5210.pdf .

Data for 1997-2015: Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. (2016). CDC’s national surveillance data (1997-2015): Tested and confirmed elevated blood lead levels by state, year and blood lead level group for children <72 months. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/data/national.htm

Raw Data Source

State and local health department data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection Blood Lead Surveillance System.


Appendix 1 – Among  Children under Six Years Old Who are Tested, Percentage who have Elevated Blood Lead Levels: 1997-2015



High BLLs are defined as greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) and are based on blood samples analyzed in laboratories. Moderate BLLs are defined as greater than or equal to 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).


[]Jones, R. L., Homa, D. M., Meyer, P. A., Brody, D. J., et al. (2005). Trends in blood lead levels and blood lead testing among US children aged 1 to five years, 1988-2004. Pediatrics, 123(3), e376-e385.

[2]Wheeler, W. (2013). Blood Lead Levels in Children Aged 1–5 Years — United States, 1999–2010. MMRW, 62(13), 245-248. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6213a3.htm.


Suggested Citation

Child Trends Databank. (2017). Lead Poisoning. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=lead-poisoning