Childhood Lead Exposure

There is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Lead poisoning causes many serious health problems for both children and adults. Childhood lead exposure can cause learning difficulties and behavioral issues while adult lead exposure can cause high blood pressure and damage to kidneys and reproductive organs.

Younger children are especially at risk because their bodies absorb more lead as their brains are still developing. The most common source of lead exposure in a home is deteriorated lead-based paint and household dust containing lead. Less common sources include contaminated drinking water and soil, keys, imported toys, spices, cosmetics, pottery and ceramics, and other consumer products.

Lead testing is not universal in Minnesota. Children with risk factors for lead exposure, such as older housing or poverty status, are targeted for testing. This includes all children who live in Minneapolis or Saint Paul and all children who receive services from Minnesota Care or Medical Assistance, as well as any child who lives in or regularly visits a home, child care facility or other building built before 1978.

How we are doing

The Minnesota Department of Health Childhood Blood Lead Screening Guidelines direct physicians to order blood lead tests for children at higher risk for exposure. The percentage of Ramsey County children under 6 who get tested for lead has been declining since 2011 even though the child population continues to steadily increase.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered the level of concern for children’s blood lead levels in 2012 (from 10 to 5 micrograms per deciliter), resulting in an increase in the number of Ramsey County children requiring intervention but that number has been decreasing since then.
Ramsey County has one of the largest numbers of children with elevated blood lead levels in Minnesota.


According to the CDC, young children living in poverty are exposed to more sources of lead than children who are not in poverty. Over 26 percent of Ramsey County children under 5 live in poverty compared to the Minnesota average of 17 percent. Nationally, African- American children have the highest concentrations of blood lead compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

Benchmark Indicator

Healthy People 2020: 
1) Reduce blood lead levels in children aged 1-5 years. U.S. Target: 5.2 μg/dL of lead 
2) Reduce the mean blood lead levels in children aged 1-5 years. U.S. Target: 1.6 μg/dL average blood lead level