Objectives. To evaluate trends in blood lead levels among children in Chicago from 1968 through 1988, and to determine the impact of the changes in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) blood lead level of concern.

Methods. We reviewed a systematic sample of blood lead screening records of the Chicago Department of Health Laboratory for high-risk children aged 6 months to 5 years. Median blood lead levels for each quarter of the years 1974 through 1988 were determined and regressed against mean air lead levels recorded at air-monitoring stations in Chicago during the same period.

Results. Median blood lead levels declined from 30 µg/dL in 1968 to 12 µg/dL in 1988, and were strongly associated with declining average air lead levels (r = .8, P < .001) from 1974 through 1988. A regression model using log-transformed data predicted a decline of 0.56 µg/dL in the median blood lead level with each 0.1 µg/m3 decline in the mean air lead level when the air lead level was near 1.0 µg/m3; the predicted slope was steeper at lower air lead levels. Despite the nearly 20-fold reduction in air lead levels, the median blood lead level of 12 µg/dL in 1988 indicates substantial continuing lead exposure. The CDC blood lead level of concern was lowered twice from 1968 to 1988, but due to the decline in blood lead levels, fewer than 30% of the children were above the level of concern throughout most of the study.

Conclusion. Although substantial lead exposure persists in Chicago, reductions in airborne lead emissions seem to have contributed to a long-term decline in the median blood lead level of high-risk Chicago children.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.