Lead Contamination 

Lead--water faucet

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The crisis in Flint, Michigan created a national effort to reduce lead contamination. The majority of of lead contamination comes from lead paint and dust, but contaminated water and soil also pose significant risks. Lead impacts on the brain and nervous system can lead to a host of health impacts ranging from anemia to low birth weight, and can also reduce lifetime earnings while increasing the need for special education. In Michigan alone, the cost of lead poisoning is estimated at $270 million dollars per year. New efforts seek to expand lead testing and reevaluate the level of lead in water that requires action.

Key Points

1) Lead exposure can come from lead paint and associated dust, contaminated soil and water, food and other consumer products.

2) The annual costs of lead exposure in Michigan, prior to the Flint Water Crisis, are estimated to be more than $270 million.

3) The current action level for lead is 15 parts per billion (ppb) in more than 10% of water systems (EPA)

4) The Michigan Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board recommends revising state lead and copper rules and requiring lead inspection for homes prior to sale.


More than 80 bills have been introduced in 2017 to address lead contamination. Strategies include requiring testing in schools, decreasing the action level and increasing notification requirements. A full list of bills is below. 


NCEL’s Lead Contamination Factsheet

Science And Reports

This task force was created by Governor Snyder, and included scientists, elected officials, and nonprofit representatives. The board issued several recommendations, including revising state lead and copper rules to be more stringent than federal standards, as well as requiring lead inspections for homes prior to sale or rental. The full report is available here.

This document outlines strategies for reducing lead in the environment of children before exposure occurs. For example, the report discusses a lack of regulation for lead contamination in school drinking fountains, and recommends steps to ensure these sources do not exceed 1 parts per billion of lead. The full document is available here.

This report summarizes the economic impacts of lead poisoning in Michigan. The research began before the Flint water crisis, and look at blood lead levels, lifetime earnings and other metrics. The report estimate the costs of lead exposure in Michigan are $270 million, with $112 million passed along to taxpayers.. The full report is available here.

Researchers followed a group of children from 6 months of age to 24 months of age, and found that water with lead levels greater than 5 parts per billion were associated with a one-point rise in children’s blood-lead levels. The research is available here.

Researchers in Germany studied women who tried to minimize their exposure or exclude lead-contaminated water by drinking bottled water. Overall, the women’s blood lead levels declined by 1.1 micrograms per deciliter, or between 20-30%. The research is available here.


Download the NCEL Fact Sheet with key facts and links to legislation here.

The Lead and Copper Rule was established in 1991, and lays out parameters for preventing lead contamination. The current threshold for action is if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 parts per billion or copper concentrations exceed an action level of 1.3 parts per million in more than 10% of customer taps sampled. The guidelines are available here

This short video draws from 30 years of research to explain how small amounts of lead and other toxic chemicals can harm children. The video is available here

A USA Today Network investigation following the Flint water crisis found that almost 2,000 additional water systems spanning all 50 states with excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years. The authors say that at least 350 of those provide drinking water to schools or day cares . Learn more about the findings here



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