Lead Exposure Risk in Your Neighborhood


Lead Exposure Risk Index


Washington State Department of Health, Vox Media, and PolicyMap

Find on PolicyMap

  • Housing
    • Residential Buildings
      • Housing Quality
        • Lead Exposure Risk
  • Health
    • Risk Factors
      • Lead Exposure

The dangers of lead poisoning in children were recently brought to the fore by the drinking water contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan. But lead contamination is a nationwide issue. According to the CDC, while drinking water is one source of lead contamination, other major sources include lead paint in older housing, and dust containing lead in soils.

To help concerned residents, public health officials, and local organizations identify neighborhoods that might be at a higher risk of exposure to lead, we added an up-to-date Lead Exposure Risk Index to show estimated exposure at the census tract level.

Many homeowners in neighborhoods with older housing stock are familiar with lead paint testing and abatement. Several states offer tax incentives that have been effective in making lead paint abatement more affordable to homeowners and landlords. In Baltimore, the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) is working to help families reduce environmental health risks in their homes, including risks from lead paint. The Lead Exposure Risk data can help organizations such as GHHI target their outreach.

Even in neighborhoods where significant lead remediation has taken place, lead contamination in soils can persist. If children play outside and get dirty, they can end up breathing in or consuming dust that contains lead. Similarly, people can end up with lead poisoning if urban gardeners don’t thoroughly wash off any soil clinging to their produce. Some plants, such as leafy greens, are even at risk of lead uptake, meaning that the plant matter itself may contain lead.

Neighborhoods with low access to healthy foods and high risk of lead exposure may be good candidates for programs that encourage raised bed urban gardening. The three layer map below identifies areas in Baltimore with the highest risk of lead exposure that are in a Limited Supermarket Access area, and that have high rates of vacant properties. Although some of these areas have nearby existing farms such as Bon Secours Community Works and Strength to Love 2, others could afford prime opportunities for expanding access to safe, healthy foods.

Areas of high lead exposure, low supermarket access, and high vacancy

About the Data

The Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) developed this index, which Vox Media then applied nationally. PolicyMap replicated the Vox Media methodology using 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data on poverty rates and age of housing stock.

A statistical analysis on the relationship between age of housing, poverty, and blood lead levels (BLL) in young children published by the CDC in 2013 — combined with data on lead-based paint prevalence in US housing units by age from a 2002 study — were used to weight the housing age and poverty variables. These two weighted variables were then combined and ranked from 1 to 10 for the overall index.

This data is available to all users, and can be accessed in the Housing menu, under Housing Quality, or the Health menu, under Risk Factors.