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Press Release

While declining rates in positive lead tests are encouraging, childhood lead exposure remains a significant problem in Cuyahoga County, says Cleveland Fed community development advisor

Decades’ worth of research has linked lead poisoning in children with reductions in IQ, poor educational outcomes, behavioral challenges, attention disorders, and criminal activity. Looking across all 88 counties in the State of Ohio, Lisa Nelson says Cuyahoga County stands out as having the highest percentage of tested children with elevated blood-lead levels in 2014, at 10.22%, compared with 1.19% in Franklin County (home to the City of Columbus), and 2.36% in Hamilton County (home to Cincinnati). Within the City of Cleveland, Nelson says three neighborhoods had strikingly high rates of elevated blood-lead levels in the children tested: Glenville at 26.5%, St.Clair–Superior at 23.4%, and Collinwood at 20.3%.

According to Nelson, a community development advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, quantifying the extent of the lead exposure problem is difficult. “We know how many children test positive for elevated blood-lead levels,” says Nelson. “What we don't know is how many more would test positive if state laws requiring testing were enforced.”

The biggest source of lead exposure is lead-based paint found primarily in homes built before 1978, housing stock that is more prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 80% of the housing stock was built before 1978; in the City of Cleveland that share reaches nearly 90%.

Preventing exposure is the only way to avoid the negative effects associated with lead. Nelson says integrated data systems like the ones developed by the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University can be used to identify at-risk properties and, in turn, inform inspection and outreach efforts. “Collaboration among the community organizations, funders, hospitals, public health departments, and universities in these efforts is critical,” says Nelson. “No one entity can tackle this problem, and all have expertise in addressing it.”

Read Lead Poisoning and the Children of Cuyahoga County

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell,, 513.455.4479