Looking for lead

Since the 1970s, U.S. efforts to eradicate childhood lead poisoning have made remarkable progress. But the advances have been uneven. Legacy lead – in paint, plumbing, yards, well-water or even playgrounds – means that kids in many neighborhoods remain at a disproportionately high risk of poisoning.

Reuters conducted a nationwide analysis of childhood blood lead testing data at the neighborhood level. This map will allow you to see what the local prevalence of elevated lead tests has been in the 21 states where we obtained census tract or zip code level data. The CDC estimates that nationwide, around 2.5% of children ages 0-6 have an elevated lead level, defined as 5 micrograms/deciliter or higher. Among small children tested in Flint, Michigan during the peak of that city’s lead contamination crisis, 5% had elevated levels, or double the average. In many neighborhoods – census tracts or zip code areas – across the country, a far higher rate of children have tested high in recent years.

Troubled communities

No data
less than 5%
More than 40%

Graphic: Charlie Szymanski, Christine Chan, Matt Weber
Source: State agencies or CDC. Some states did not include data for census tracts and zip codes if the testing numbers were small, usually below five, to protect patient privacy. These areas appear as if no one was tested.
Data by census tract: CO, IN, MA, MD, MN, MO, NY, WI, PA, OH
Data by zip code: CA, IL, MI, NM, OK, RI, SC, TX, WV, CT, IA
Years: Data for 2012: CA, 2015: IL, NH; 2005-2011: TX; 2005-2015: IN, MA, MD, PA, NY, OH, MI, OK, RI, WV, CT; 2006-2015: NM, IA; 2010-2014: CO, WI; 2010-2015: AL, AZ, DE, GA, KY, LA, MO, NC, NJ, NV, OR, SC, TN, VT; 2011-2015: MN; 2014 DC; 2010-2012: FL, KS, WA; 2010-2011: VA.
Result types: TX, WC, CT, IA, MO, MN only included confirmed results, MA included estimated confirmed results and all other states included a mix of confirmed and unconfirmed test results.

• All the states included children tested under the age of six except Indiana, which included children under seven.
• California could only provide results for 200 zip codes with the highest number of children under age 6 years who had lead levels at or above 4.5 micrograms per deciliter and where at least 500 children were tested.
• New York data from the CDC is generally limited to the period between 2005-2007, though there are a few records from 2015.
• Iowa was only able to provide data on numbers of children who tested above 10 micrograms per deciliter.
• Massachusetts uses confirmed and unconfirmed results to estimate the number of children with elevated lead levels.
• Wisconsin’s numbers represent the percentage of children who tested with blood lead levels between 5 to 9.9 micrograms per deciliter. In addition, Wisconsin offered separate figures for children with highly elevated levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter, which are not included here. In some of the most heavily impacted census tracts in the state, 10 percent or more of blood tests came back at a 10 or higher.