Lead-Level Limits for Children – Results of Canada’s Survey and Policy


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reduced its level on lead poisoning from 10 to 5 micrograms per decilitre cutting in half the lead level limit for children from one to five years of age.

Today CDC officials report that approximately 535,000 children have lead

poisoning in the United States under the new lead level limits, regardless of the fact that house paint and gasoline no longer contain lead.  Studies recently published in the 'Environmental Science & Technology' Journal, state that seasonal fluctuation of children's blood lead levels in many post-industrial cities such as Detroit, Boston, Chicago and Washington DC, indicate children are exposed to higher levels of lead from contaminated soil that turns into airborne dust in the summertime.  Children exposed to lead from contaminated soil in yards and playgrounds may be the biggest threat to their health.

The CDC, after lowering the lead level limit, looked at old blood tests again from 1,653 children under the age of six to determine how many would have lead poisoning under the new definition and found that 3% (about 50 children) had blood lead levels higher than the new threshold limit - which is enough to cause learning and behaviour problems.  David Rosner, a Columbia University public health historian stated, "It's likely that many children with lead poisoning have not been diagnosed.  In the CDC study, elevated lead levels were discovered for a third of the children only when they were tested by researchers."

While it is recommended the U.S. government devote public dollars to remove the threat of lead poisoning, Health Officials state that parents need to eliminate and/or control all sources of lead in their children's environment.

High lead-levels in young children can affect their cognitive and behavioural development, cause learning disabilities, seizures, and even death in some cases.  The effects of lead exposure are greatest in unborn children and those under five years of age.

Statistics Canada – Policy Reviewed for Lead-Level Limits

On April 17, 2013, Health Canada released its second comprehensive report on 'Human Biomonitoring of Environmental Chemicals in Canada' and it is the first report to include data for children 3 to 5 years of age.

"Most Canadians have blood lead levels much lower than the current blood lead intervention level."

Statistics Canada
April 17, 2013

In 2009 to 2011, 100% of Canadians aged 3 to 79 had lead in their blood; however, almost all of the Canadian population had blood lead levels lower than the current blood lead intervention level of 10 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre).  The average lead level for 6 to 79 year olds was 1.2 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre).  This is about 11% lower than the average lead level reported in 2007 to 2009 and four times lower than the average level measured in the 1978 to 1979 Canada Health Survey.

Children aged 3 to 5 years had blood lead levels of 0.93 µg/dL (micrograms per decilitre) which is higher than the levels found in children and youth aged 6 to 19.  Adults aged 60 to 79 had the highest lead levels, reaching 1.9 µg/dL.  Males tend to have higher lead levels than females in all age groups, except in children aged 6 to 11 years where there is no difference in lead concentrations.  The survey was not designed to provide estimates by sex for children 3 to 5 years of age.

The Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) collected data from a representative sample of Canadians aged 3 to 79 years at 18 collection sites across Canada.  Basic demographic and health information was collected during a household interview, followed by a series of direct physical measurements taken at a mobile examination centre including blood and urine samples.

The data presently released for Cycle 2 was collected between 2009 and 2011, which includes a nationally representative sample of approximately 6,400 Canadians - aged 3 to 79 years of age.  Cycle 1 was conducted from 2007 to 2009 and included approximately 5,500 Canadians aged 6 to 79 years.  Sample collection for Cycle 3 (2012-2013) is in progress and will be completed by December 2013.  Planning for Cycles 4 (2014-2015) and 5 (2016-2017) is underway.

Largest Baby Food Manufacturers

On April 8th, 2013, the largest baby food manufacturers, Dole Food Co., Del Monte Foods, Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. and Nestle SA (NESN)'s Gerber Unit were in a California courtroom facing a lawsuit brought against them by the Environmental Law Foundation for allegedly violating a state law (Proposition 65 – toxin law warning) wherein they are required to alert consumers of unsafe lead levels in baby food, fruits and juices.  The baby foods in question are carrots, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, grape juice and fruit cocktail. 

California is the only U.S. state with a right-to-know law requiring food industry manufacturers to warn consumers about products or materials containing chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. 

The baby food manufacturers are arguing that lead found in fruit and vegetables they use for their products occurs naturally in the air, water and soil.  While the FDA states that trace levels of lead in food products does not pose an 'unacceptable health risk', scientists are diametrically opposed in opinion in not being able to identify a level of exposure that is without any health risks.

Australia Rethinks Lead Level Limits

As many as 100,000 Australian children under five years of age have blood lead levels high enough to cause health and behavioural problems.  The current acceptable lead level is 10 micrograms per decilitre but compelling evidence has shown that lead levels 80% lower than the current goal poses an increased risk to children's health. 

The United Sates Environmental Protection Agency's (US EPA) Integrated Science Assessment for Lead concluded last November that evidence shows lead exposure in children above 2 micrograms per decilitre can affect neuro-cognitive functioning and learning (IQ, verbal skills, memory, visuospatial processing) and neuro-behaviours such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Lead exposure is also associated with delayed onset of puberty and adverse reproductive and developmental effects in young adults who have blood levels less than 5 micrograms per decilitre.

While health agencies in the U.S. and Germany have reduced their acceptable lead levels by 50% to 5 micrograms per decilitre, it is important to note the World Health Organization (WHO) has accepted that neuro-behavioural damage can occur when blood levels are below 5 micrograms per decilitre

Lead exposure from soils and dusts in Australian communities is dominated by three sources – mining and smelting emissions, leaded paint and petrol.  Lead hot spots in Australia are Port Pirie, Mount Isa, Broken Hill, Cockle Creek and Newcastle.  The National Health and

Medical Research Council (NHMRC) stated that it is time to lower the accepted blood level goal and aim for population exposure levels below 1 microgram per decilitre.

Children in Congo Suffer from Increased Lead Levels

Virtually every child under the age of three and 50% of children between the ages of three and five in the Congo have elevated lead levels posing a high risk for their long term well being.  More than three times as many city children had elevated levels when compared with those living in rural areas.  71% of children had lead levels above 10 micrograms per decilitre and 22% had lead levels above 20 micrograms per decilitre wherein the CDC recommended medical evaluations.

Leaded gas, car battery recycling and eating fired clay during pregnancy has contributed to the high lead levels measured in children.  Fired clay naturally contains lead and pregnant women use the clay to treat nausea.  Concentrations of dust in children's homes were 60% higher than the concentration used in standards

for the home environment in the United States.  While the Congo started phasing out leaded gasoline seven years ago, more interventions are necessary to minimize the risk of increased exposure.


For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

Diligencia Investigative Reporting  - CDC Lowers Lead Level Limits in Children

Diligencia Investigative Reporting - 800 Million Children Exposed to Poisonous Lead Levels

Diligencia Investigative Reporting - Toxic Environments in Chinese Countryside Creating Cancer Villages

Diligencia Investigative Reporting - Lead Level Limits for Children:  Results of Canada’s Survey and Policy

Environmental Health Perspectives – National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Childhood Lead Poisoning

Reduce Your Exposure to Lead – Healthy Canadians – Government of Canada

Blood Lead Concentrations in Canadians – 2009-2011 – Statistics Canada

Overview of the Second Report on Human Biomonitoring Of Environmental Chemicals in Canada – Health Canada (includes extensive and comprehensive data on chemicals including Metals, Perfluoroakyl substances, Phthalates, Bisphenol A, Triclosan, Organophosphate Pesticides, Pyrethroid Pesticides, 2,4-D pesticide, and Nicotine Exposure – Cotinine.

Chemical Substances Website – Government of Canada

Lead and Human Health – Health Canada

Canadian Health Measures Survey – Statistics Canada

Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children's Health and Safety Association – April 5, 2013 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019


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