Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated With the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response

Am J Public Health. 2016 Feb;106(2):283-90. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.303003. Epub 2015 Dec 21.


Objectives: We analyzed differences in pediatric elevated blood lead level incidence before and after Flint, Michigan, introduced a more corrosive water source into an aging water system without adequate corrosion control.

Methods: We reviewed blood lead levels for children younger than 5 years before (2013) and after (2015) water source change in Greater Flint, Michigan. We assessed the percentage of elevated blood lead levels in both time periods, and identified geographical locations through spatial analysis.

Results: Incidence of elevated blood lead levels increased from 2.4% to 4.9% (P < .05) after water source change, and neighborhoods with the highest water lead levels experienced a 6.6% increase. No significant change was seen outside the city. Geospatial analysis identified disadvantaged neighborhoods as having the greatest elevated blood lead level increases and informed response prioritization during the now-declared public health emergency.

Conclusions: The percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels increased after water source change, particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Water is a growing source of childhood lead exposure because of aging infrastructure.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Drinking Water / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lead / blood*
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Public Health*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / blood


  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Lead