A Comparison of Child Blood Lead Levels in Urban and Rural Children Ages 5–12 Years Living in the Border Region of El Paso, Texas

  • Juan Alvarez
  • Michelle Del Rio
  • Tania Mayorga
  • Salvador Dominguez
  • Mayra Gisel Flores-Montoya
  • Christina Sobin


Lead exposure is an unresolved pediatric health risk and disproportionately affects children in lower-income neighborhoods. Residences with children younger than age 5 years are the focus of mitigation policies; however, studies have shown that older children between the ages of 5 and 12 years also are at risk of central nervous system effects. Whether historically contaminated neighborhoods present ongoing risk to older children also is of concern. This study compared the blood lead levels (BLLs) of older children from an historically contaminated urban neighborhood to those of demographically matched children from a nearby rural locale and predicted significantly higher BLLs in the urban children. The study included 222 children aged 5–12 years, 111 from the urban neighborhood and 111 from local rural townships, matched for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and family income. Blood lead, cadmium, and mercury were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. General linear models tested whether geographic location (urban vs. rural) predicted child heavy metal levels, controlling for sex and age. Only location predicted only child BLL (R2= 0.36); children living in the urban setting had significantly higher BLLs as compared with matched rural township children (F = 125, df220,2, p <0.001). Neighborhoods with a history of lead contamination can present current risk of lead exposure for older children between the ages of 5 and 12 years, as well as for infants and toddlers. More studies are needed to better characterize the risk of lead exposure to older children, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods with a history of lead contamination.



The authors thank Jesus Placencia, M.S., for creation of the map. Funding was provided by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant No. R21HD060120, CS PI), National Center for Research Resources (Grant No. 5G12RR008124) and J. Edward and Helen M.C. Stern Professorship in Neuroscience (CS).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

Human and Animal Rights

The studies followed all current standards for human subjects’ research and was approved by the University of Texas Institutional Review Board (IRB Protocol #564493-1 and #79085-14), by the El Paso Independent School District Research Board, and by the Canutillo Independent School District Board and Superintendent.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all parents before children’s participation; child assent was obtained from each child immediately before study participation. The study methods and procedures underwent annual review by University Institutional Review Board.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Health SciencesUniversity of Texas, El PasoEl PasoUSA
  2. 2.Border Biomedical Research Center, Toxicology CoreUniversity of Texas, El PasoEl PasoUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Texas, El PasoEl PasoUSA
  4. 4.Laboratory of NeuroendocrinologyThe Rockefeller UniversityNew YorkUSA

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