Healthy Homes: Lead Poisoning

Keeping the home healthy: an environmental health issue. But should it also be a concern for MCH? Where children spend time eating, drinking, playing, doing homework and sleeping, should the MCH field focus on how living spaces may influence health? Many of the hazards that affect a child’s life course may originate in the home setting. However, should the government regulate private residencies; are they overstepping their boundaries into this sphere, or is this a case to protect a special vulnerable population?

Despite these concerns, public health officials are working to ensure children live fulfilling lives. A MCH campaign in St. Louis is working to prevent lead exposure in children. Researchers there began the Heavy Metal Project, offering low-income pregnant women free home inspections and screening. Moreover, if researchers found lead, they cleaned and covered old paint and replaced windows. Here, the project aimed to prevent newborns from being exposed to lead in the first place.

Was the program effective?

Compared to babies whose homes were not cleaned, babies who lived in homes researchers intervened in had lower blood lead levels. Visit the study’s methodologies and results at:

Why is this significant?

Lead exposure has been shown to be related to brain damage, leading to lower IQ, behavioral problems and learning disabilities, as well as cardiovascular and immune system troubles later in life. Despite the fact that campaigns have been working for decades to remove lead pain from housing, about 250,000 children each year are diagnosed with lead levels higher than the recommended 10 micrograms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 24 million homes in the U.S. are still thought to have paint with lead.

In January 2012, the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention released recommendations to decrease the limit of how much lead exposure is considered dangerous. This was cut in half for children ages 5 and younger, from 10 micrograms to 5, doubling the number of children considered in danger of high levels.

Despite this, Congress has slashed funding for the CDC’s lead prevention grant program from $30 million to $2 million (that’s 94 %!). More and more children are now screened after age 5 for lead positioning; this is in contrast to families receiving home inspections before exposure occurs.

What factors influence this environmental MCH problem?

  • Social determinants related to substandard housing
    • Socioeconomic status
    • Education
    • Race/ethnicity
  • Children can also be exposed to lead via:
    • Tap water
    • Older toys
    • Jewelry
    • Soil around houses

For more information

Visit the CDC’s Healthy Homes and lead information website at and respectively.