Lead Exposure Risk Index

Index (1-10) reflecting poverty-adjusted risk of housing-based lead exposure

American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau.
Dashboard-City Average

Why do we measure lead exposure?

Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to their health and development. No safe level of lead in blood has been identified for children. Even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to negatively affect a child’s intelligence, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.1 Most children with lead in their blood live in or regularly visit housing that has old, decaying lead paint, exposing them to leaded paint chips and dust.1 Residents with low incomes may also struggle more with the cost of maintaining older housing stock, leaving them more vulnerable to the health impacts of poor housing quality.2,3      

How do we measure lead exposure?

Since data on blood lead levels is difficult to obtain from across the Dashboard’s cities, we instead use two metrics that are well-established predictors of lead exposure.4 

Housing with Potential Lead Risk

Older homes generally have a greater risk of lead paint.5 “Housing with Potential Lead Risk” is the percentage of housing stock with the potential for elevated lead risk because of the age of the housing in the city or census tracts.

Lead Exposure Risk Index

The “Lead Exposure Risk Index” is a score of overall lead exposure risk obtained by combining the “Housing with Potential Lead Risk” information with the percentage of people who live in poverty in the city or census tract, since both housing age and poverty are major predictors of lead exposure.3,6-7

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Strengths and Limitations

Strengths of Metric

Limitations of Metric

• Housing age contributes to some of the main sources of lead exposure: lead paint, exposure to soil/dust with traces of lead, and lead pipes.1

• Looking at both housing age and poverty can identify the areas with the greatest risk of lead exposure, which can help cities and communities target lead abatement strategies to where they are needed most.

• High scores on these measures describe the lead risk in an area, but may not accurately predict an individual’s actual chance of lead exposure.4

• These metrics do not reflect lead removal or improvement interventions that may have happened or that may be underway.

• These metrics are slow to change, since housing age does not change unless buildings are demolished or new housing is built.


Housing with potential lead risk

We count the number of housing units in each of five time periods: pre-1939, 1940­–59, 1960–79, 1980–99, and 2000 or newer. The count of housing units in each time period is weighted by the likelihood of lead exposure in housing of that era, which results in an overall percent of area housing likely to have some risk of lead exposure.

Lead exposure risk index

We took the housing with potential lead risk and factored in information about the percentage of households living at or below 125% of the poverty level. We standardized, weighted, summed, and ranked these values from 1, or lowest risk, to 10, or highest risk, to create a scale of overall lead exposure risk.

These analyses were based on methods developed by the Washington State Department of Health/Vox Media.4 For more information on the calculations, please refer to the City Health Dashboard Technical Documentation.

Data Source

Estimates for the housing with potential lead risk metric are from American Community Survey 5-year estimate data using the B25034 table. Estimates for the lead exposure risk index metric are from American Community Survey 5-year estimate data using the B25034 and S1701 tables. Multi-year data are available for these metrics. For more information, please refer to Using Multi-Year Data: Tips and Cautions

Years of Collection

Calculated by the Dashboard Team using data from 2022, 5 year estimate.


  1. Academy A, Pediatrics OF, Exposure L. Lead Exposure in Children: Prevention, Detection, and Management. Pediatrics. 2005;116:1036-1046.

  2. Shai D. Income, housing, and fire injuries: a census tract analysis. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974). 2006;121:149-154.

  3. Vivier PM, Hauptman M, Weitzen SH, Bell S, Quilliam DN, Logan JR. The important health impact of where a child lives: neighborhood characteristics and the burden of lead poisoning. Maternal and child health journal. Nov 2011;15(8):1195-1202.

  4. Frostenson S, Kliff S. The risk of lead poisoning isn't just in Flint. So we mapped the risk in every neighborhood in America. 2016. https://www.vox.com/a/lead-exposure-risk-map. Accessed January 8, 2018.

  5. Jacobs DE, Clickner RP, Zhou JY, et al. The prevalence of lead-based paint hazards in U.S. housing. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2002;110:599-606.

  6. Vaidyanathan A, Staley F, Shire J, et al. Screening for lead poisoning: a geospatial approach to determine testing of children in at-risk neighborhoods. J Pediatr. Mar 2009;154(3):409-414.

  7. Lanphear BP, Byrd RS, Auinger P, Schaffer SJ. Community characteristics associated with elevated blood lead levels in children. Pediatrics. Feb 1998;101(2):264-271.

  8. Shenassa ED, Stubbendick A, Brown MJ. Social disparities in housing and related pediatric injury: a multilevel study. Am J Public Health. Apr 2004;94(4):633-639.

Last updated: July 26, 2023