American Sociological Association

The Racial Gap in Childhood Blood Lead Levels Related to Socioeconomic Position of Residence in Metropolitan Detroit

February 14, 2017

Childhood lead poisoning in the United States remains a persistent, prevalent environmental public health problem, especially for children living in central-city neighborhoods. These neighborhoods typically are racially segregated, are in proximity to current and/or legacy lead emission sources, consist of older housing, and contain disproportionately African American or black children of low-income families. This research had two aims: (1) to determine whether average blood lead levels (BLLs) in children in the Detroit metropolitan area are related to the socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhoods where they live and (2) to determine the estimated effect residential differences in the socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods have on average BLLs in non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white children. Data on pediatric BLLs were obtained from the Michigan Department of Community Health, and racial and socioeconomic data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2006–2010). The modified Darden-Kamel Composite Socioeconomic Index, multiple regression, and difference-of-means tests were used to determine the effect residential socioeconomic characteristics of neighborhoods have on average BLLs. Black segregated neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic characteristics were predictors of higher average BLLs in the children who lived there. When black and white children resided in neighborhoods of similar socioeconomic characteristics, the black-white gap in BLLs lessened. Significantly, after stratifying black and white children by age, living in the same neighborhoods of the lowest socioeconomic characteristics negated the black-white racial gap in BLLs entirely, but increasing levels of socioeconomic characteristics exacerbated the divide.

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