Researchers Developing Predictive Tool for Household Lead Exposure  

04/05/2022 College of Science and Technology, Built Environment

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (April 5, 2022) – Researchers from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Indiana University (IU), and RTI International are working with communities in Indiana and North Carolina to help test for lead in household dust, soil, and water to develop a tool that can predict which residential households are at risk of lead exposure and provide actionable insights to help lower that risk.  

In the United States, state and local agencies typically rely on the detection of lead in children’s blood tests or the age of a home to determine which households need interventions to address environmental lead hazards. 

Funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, researchers will use machine-learning techniques and public data on residential lead exposure risks to create a website and mapping tool to predict lead exposure for Indiana and North Carolina households.   

"The current approach uses children as lead sensors; households typically are only tested after elevated levels of lead are found in a child’s blood during a visit to their pediatrician,” said Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, IU professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “Lead causes irreversible health effects, so there is no safe level of lead exposure for children or adults. Our vision is to create a twenty-first-century approach that prevents lead exposure before it ever happens by predicting houses where lead is most likely to be a problem." 

Emmanuel Obeng-Gyasi,  assistant professor in the Department of Built Environment in theobeng-gyesi.png College of Science and Technology, as well as the director of the Environmental Health and Disease Laboratory, will serve as a co-PI with Jennifer Hoponick Redmon and James Harrington of nonprofit research institute RTI International. Partner organizations also involved with the study include the cities of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Greensboro, North Carolina, the State of Indiana's Housing and Community Development Authority, NC Child, and the NC Housing Finance Agency. 

“We previously identified racial disparities in lead exposure in Greensboro households. This study offers the opportunity to take it a step further by including more critical variables to build accurate predictive models to help the most at-risk children as early as possible,” Obeng-Gyasi said. “Our team is poised to change the paradigm of how lead surveillance is done at the local and state level.” 

Researchers are asking communities in Indiana and North Carolina to help them test and improve their predictive model by signing up to collect and ship water, dust, and soil samples to RTI for laboratory analysis. 

Selected residents in Allen, Delaware, Marion, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh counties in Indiana and Guilford County in North Carolina will receive postcards inviting them to participate in the study. Participants will receive mail out test kits and simple instructions to collect and ship their samples. Each participant will receive personalized, confidential results along with actionable recommendations on how to decrease lead exposure, if needed. 

"Whether you are pregnant or have young children at home, lead exposure is a serious concern," said Vikki Crouse, policy analyst and project director at nonprofit advocacy organization NC Child in North Carolina. "This study will help families in our state understand the level of lead risk in their home and get rid of it before exposure occurs. And that's a win for all North Carolina kids." 

For more information, go to www.cleanwaterforUSkids.org/healthyhomes to learn about the study.   

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu