Environmental Public Health Tracking: Lead Poisoning Data

Lead is a naturally occurring metal. Lead has no nutritional value, but it is valuable in manufacturing. It was used in house paint until it was banned in 1978.

When lead enters the body, it is toxic and at high enough levels, it can cause lead poisoning.

Wisconsin Tracking hosts childhood lead poisoning data to the census tract level.

The section below presents answers to frequently asked questions about lead poisoning and the data.

Access the lead poisoning data

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What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a naturally occurring metal. It may be found by itself or with other minerals. Lead has no nutritional value, but it is valuable in manufacturing. It was used in house paint until it was banned in 1978. When lead enters the body, it is toxic and at high enough levels, it can cause lead poisoning.

There is no safe level of lead in the human body. Even very low levels of exposure can cause adverse health effects.

Lead poisoning is commonly determined by measuring the amount of lead in a person’s body by using a blood test. The results are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stats 254.11[9]) defines lead poisoning in a child as a blood lead level of 10 or more mcg/dL. However, in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the lead poisoning definition be lowered to 5 mcg/dL.  This decision was made due to the overwhelming evidence that blood lead levels below 10 mcg/dL can cause damage to the brain and other parts of the body. Parents who would like to have their child tested for lead poisoning should contact their doctor or the local health department. 

This fact sheet (PDF) provides more information about the health effects of lead poisoning.  Visit the Prevention and Intervention for Lead Exposure web page for more information. 

How is lead poisoning related to environmental health?

Wisconsin Tracking tracks childhood lead poisoning because it is a preventable threat to children. By tracking the patterns for lead poisoning, professionals can better target their resources for the best prevention strategies. Banning lead in gasoline and other products has helped reduce how much lead we come in contact with. Unfortunately, there are still about 310,000 U.S. children aged 1-5 years who are considered lead poisoned.

Why do we track childhood lead poisoning?

Tracking childhood lead poisoning will help identify:

  • Lead testing and poisoning rate changes over time
  • Seasonal variations
  • Geographic differences
  • Differences in lead testing and poisoning by age, gender, and race/ethnicity
  • Populations in need of targeted interventions

Why does Wisconsin Tracking only have data on kids and not adults?

Children are more likely to get lead poisoning than adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies lead as the number one environmental health threat to young children.

Lead poisoning in children is preventable. Prevention efforts are focused on children younger than 6 years old because:

  • Their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults.
  • Their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. At this age, the brain is still developing, and lead poisoning can stunt this development.
  • Children crawl and put objects in their mouths. They can come into contact with any lead that is present in their environment, such as lead dust on toys or on the floor.

The Tracking team is interested in adding work-related adult lead poisoning data, but those data are not up yet.  To be notified when we add new datasets, join our quarterly newsletter.

What is the data source?

The website provides data from the Wisconsin Childhood Lead Poisoning Preventing Program at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Which measures do we use for lead poisoning?

  • Number of children under 6 tested for lead poisoning
  • Number of children under 6 testing positive for lead poisoning (in other words, number of children poisoned)
  • Percent of children under 6 poisoned by lead among those who were tested for lead

All measures are available at the state, county, and census tract level.

What are some considerations for interpreting the data?

  • The data collected are based on the number of children tested and not based on all children living in the state or local community
  • Data users should keep in mind that many factors contribute to a disease. These factors should be considered when interpreting the data.  Factors include:
    • Demographics (race, gender, age)
    • Socioeconomic status (income level, education)
    • Geography (rural, urban)
    • Changes in the medical field (diagnosis patterns, reporting requirements)
    • Individual behavior (diet, smoking)

Where can I learn more?

Last Revised: September 14, 2020