Ohio Children's Blood Lead Levels Double The National Average

Ohio had the second-highest proportion of children with lead in their blood of all 50 states, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Sept. 27, 2021. Old industrial cities with older homes are more likely to have kids with elevated blood lead levels. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]
Ohio had the second-highest proportion of children with lead in their blood of all 50 states, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Sept. 27, 2021. Old industrial cities with older homes are more likely to have kids with elevated blood lead levels. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

The results of a newly published study show troubling amounts of lead in Ohio children's blood.

Ohio had the second-highest proportion of children with lead in their blood of all 50 states, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday

Nebraska was the only other state with lead levels percentages higher than Ohio.

Pediatric physicians analyzed results from blood lead tests in more than a million children in all 50 states who were younger than six years old, from Oct.1, 2018, to Feb. 29, 2020.

The study found the proportions of elevated blood lead levels in kids in Ohio was more than 5.2 percent, which is more than double the national rate of 1.9 percent.

Experts say any level of lead in a child's blood is troubling. Lead poisoning in children can result in neurological issues, which is why public health officials urge testing and treatment.

Researchers used data of lead testing in children provided by Quest Diagnostics, a nationally known testing service. 

Quest Diagnostics accounts for more than 10 percent of the data reported to the CDC, said Dr. Harvey Kaufman, senior medical director and head of the Health Trends Research Program at Quest Diagnostics. 

Ohio has old industrial cities, like Cleveland, which is an indicator that blood lead levels will be higher. These cities often have older housing that used lead paint and a history of companies that contributed to lead in the soil and water, Dr. Kaufman said.

"If you go back to the mid part of the last century, it was not uncommon for industrial companies and even gas stations and auto repair shops to dump things into the water and the dirt," he said. "We hope those days are long gone, but the lead doesn't go away. It stays in the soil, it stays in the water, it stays in the water supply for a long time."

Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Wisconsin were all double the national average as well. 

Lead pipes can also cause lead poisoning, which is why Michigan, which has had issues with the water supply in Flint and other cities, had some of the highest lead levels of any state. 

Although Ohio's higher rate of blood lead levels isn't good, Kaufman said the nationwide trends are improving. 

"In terms of the direction of lead levels over time, they've been coming down dramatically over the course of the past 40-50 years," Kaufman said. 

Nationwide, children in areas with the highest levels of poverty were nearly 2.5 times as likely to have elevated blood lead levels than children in areas with the lowest levels of poverty. Other factors that indicate children might be more at risk for elevated blood lead levels are if the child has public health insurance like Medicaid. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused lead testing to drop dramatically in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. 

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