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Why do so many children in the Midwest have lead in their blood?

Lisa Pascoe's son on the steps in front of the St. Louis city home where he was poisoned by lead in 2012.
Emily Cadei
Lisa Pascoe's son on the steps in front of the St. Louis city home where he was poisoned by lead in 2012. Just over half of Americans alive today were exposed to high lead levels as children, especially those born between 1951 and 1980.

There is no safe level of lead in children's blood, according to researchers. Yet, the toxin persists in the Midwest because of the way infrastructure and homes were built.

According to the CDC, no amount of lead in a child's blood is safe, and children in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa have some of the highest levels in the nation.

Lead was banned in gasoline, residential paint and water pipes decades ago. But the toxin, known to be dangerous for centuries, still poisons thousands of children each year in the Midwest.

NPR's Midwest Newsroom and the Missouri Independent are investigating failures to eradicate lead poisoning, as well as its effects on families — particularly the Black and low-income families.

"We haven't put a whole lot of resources into actually eradicating the problem," said Allison Kite, data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector. "Homes will often get remediated after a child is already tested with a high lead level instead of putting resources into preventing it form happening in the first place."

  • Allison Kite, is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector
  • Niara Savage, investigative reporting fellow with NPR Midwest Newsroom based in St. Louis
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