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The average amount of potentially harmful lead in the blood of children in low-income families living in federally assisted housing is significantly lower than comparable children not living in federally assisted housing. That’s the principle conclusion of a study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published this week in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the joint HUD-CDC study, children living in federally supported housing have approximately 20 percent lower blood lead levels on average, than similar children in low-income families living in homes where there is no federal assistance.

The analysis initially revealed that average blood lead levels for children living in HUD-assisted housing were not significantly different than children living in unassisted housing. However, after considering demographic, socioeconomic and family characteristics, and focusing on families living below two times the national poverty level, children who live in federally assisted housing had significantly lower average blood lead levels than their un-assisted counterparts.

Researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005-2012. HUD and CDC then examined 1999-2014 administrative data for HUD’s largest rental assistance programs. By comparing these records, HUD and CDC identified the blood lead levels of approximately 150 young children (ages 1-5) living in federally assisted housing and the blood lead levels of approximately 1000 young children whose families received no housing assistance during 1999-2014.

In the group of children with family incomes less than twice the poverty threshold, the unadjusted average blood lead level among those living in federally assisted housing at the time of their examination was not significantly different from non-housing-assisted children. However, after accounting for demographic, socioeconomic, and family characteristics, the difference in blood lead levels in these two populations of children became statistically significant. Young children living in federally supported housing showed an average level of 1.44 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) compared with 1.79 µg/dL for similar children living in unassisted housing.

Last month, HUD proposed a new rule to further protect young children living in federally assisted housing by lowering the Department’s threshold of lead in the child’s blood to match the standard used by CDC. HUD’s proposed ‘reference level’ for lead in a young child’s blood would be lowered from 20 µg/dL to 5 µg/dL, and continue to be aligned with CDC recommendations in the future. This important change to HUD’s 17-year-old Lead Safe Housing Rule will allow for an earlier response when a child under six years old is exposed to lead-based paint hazards in their HUD-assisted homes.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

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