Tighter regulations are reducing the risk of lead exposure in public housing

A new study finds that tougher inspection standards have led to lower blood lead levels among tenants — although any exposure is still too much.

A new study suggests that lead inspection and removal regulations for public housing have been effective over time, reducing the risk of lead exposure for residents. After decades of high lead levels in its housing stock, it’s a sliver of hope for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that remediation and safety efforts are working.

Researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Tufts Medical Center used measurements from HUD and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look at nearly 20 years of data on residents’ blood lead levels, taken between 1999 and 2018. They compared people living in federal housing with those who were presumed to be on the waiting list for it while living in private market low-income housing. They found that, on average, HUD residents had blood lead levels that were 11.4 percent lower than those waiting for housing assistance. The biggest gap was for those over age 61, whose levels were 14.2 percent lower. For children in the 6 to 11 and 12 to 19 age ranges, while their levels were slightly lower, the difference was not considered statistically significant.  Read more about JPB Fellow research MyDzung Chu.