Social Determinants of Health

Percentage of blood lead tests that are confirmed as elevated


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Story Behind the Curve

Why is Lead a Health Concern?

Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been part of the world economy since the time of the Romans. It has been used throughout history for a variety of industrial and residential processes and products including paint, plumbing, jewelry, and cosmetics. Lead may also be found within the environment in the air, soil, and water. 

The most common lead exposure for children in Indiana occurs through the lead-based paint. Lead was an additive to most paints prior to the ban on lead-based paint in 1978, As lead based paint deteriorates with age or is disturbed during, for example repair or remodeling projects, it can generate paint fragments, chips, and dust. These particles can be ingested or inhaled, causing potentially significant health consequences. 

According to the CDC, exposure to lead most often results in the lead being stored in the body’s blood, bones, and tissues, causing prolonged, consistent exposure. This exposure, especially at high levels, can result in symptoms such as abdominal pain, tiredness, headache, irritability, memory, and appetite loss. Prolonged exposure can result in additional symptoms such as depression, forgetfulness, irritability, and nausea. While lead is toxic to everyone, unborn babies, and children younger than seven years of age may be more susceptible to the negative health effects lead can have on development and growth, as they are likely to experience toxicity at lower levels than adults. Children under the age of two are particularly vulnerable due to the lack of a fully formed blood brain barrier. There is also evidence that early lead exposure has direct ties to significant health concerns later in life, such as: high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and fertility issues.

Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No level of lead in the blood has been found to be safe. The most important step that parents, healthcare providers, and others can take to keep children safe is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.

Lead Exposure Indicator

This curve shows the percentage of blood lead tests that are confirmed as elevated each year. According to Indiana statute, a child becomes a confirmed case when he or she receives at least one venous blood test or two capillary blood tests within a three-month period, with a blood lead result at or above 10 µg/dL. In July 2022, new legislation set the elevated blood lead reference value to 3.5µg/dL rather than 10µg/dL. This new reference value creates opportunities for more children with lead exposure to receive resources which are aimed to improve the health of those children.

What Works

Lead poisoning is preventable. Talk to your child's doctor about a simple blood lead test and if you are pregnant or nursing, talk with your doctor about exposure to sources of lead. If your home was built before 1978, speak with your local health department about testing. 

Wash your child's hands frequently, and wash toys, pacifiers, and bottles often. Keep your home clean and dust free, and remove shoes before entering your home to avoid bringing lead dust inside.


Action Plan
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