Declines in adult blood lead levels in New York City compared with the United States, 2004–2014

Alexis Feinberg, Wendy McKelvey, Paromita Hore, Rania Kanchi, Patrick J. Parsons, Christopher D. Palmer, Lorna E. Thorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To assess changes in lead exposure in the New York City (NYC) adult population over a 10-year period and to contrast changes with national estimates, overall, and by socio-demographics and smoking status. Methods: We used measurements of blood lead levels (BLLs) from NYC resident adults who participated in the NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (HANES) in 2004 and 2013–2014. We compared estimates of geometric means (GM), 95th percentiles, and prevalence of BLL ≥ 5 µg/dL overall and by subgroups over time, with adults who participated in the National HANES (NHANES) 2001–2004 and 2011–2014. Results: The GM BLLs among NYC adults declined from 1.79 µg/dL in 2004 to 1.13 µg/dL in 2013–2014 (P <.0001). The declines over this period ranged from 30.1% to 43.2% across socio-demographic groups and smoking status (P <.0001 for all comparisons), and were slightly greater than declines observed nationally. The drop in prevalence of elevated BLLs (≥ 5 µg/dL) was also greater in NYC (4.8–0.5%), compared with NHANES (3.8–2.0%). By 2013–2014, NYC adults with lower annual family income (< $20,000) no longer had higher GM BLLs relative to those with higher incomes (≥ $75,000), a disparity improvement not observed nationally. Likewise, GM BLLs and 95th percentiles for non-Hispanic black adults in NYC were lower than GM BLLs for non-Hispanic white adults. Non-Hispanic Asian adults had the highest GM BLLs compared with other racial/ethnic groups, both in NYC in 2013–14 and nationally in 2011–2014 (1.37 µg/dL, P =.1048 and 1.22 µg/dL, P =.0004, respectively). Conclusion: The lessening of disparity in lead exposure across income groups and decreasing exposure at the high end of the distribution among non-Hispanic black and Asian adults in NYC suggest that regulatory and outreach efforts have effectively targeted these higher exposure risk groups. However, Asian adults still had the highest average BLL, suggesting a need for enhanced outreach to this group. Local surveillance remains an important tool to monitor BLLs of local populations and to inform initiatives to reduce exposures in those at highest risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-200
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Adults
  • Biomonitoring
  • Blood lead
  • Disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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