Lead paint risk map based on national data

A new lead risk map can help define neighborhoods with lead paint exposure risks, but not where lead service laterals lay buried in the ground


The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) created a method to show lead risk exposures in its communities. Then, Vox used that methodology to create a national map that searches the risks of lead poisoning by location.

Just type in any address and find out the lead risk of that area. But note that there is a limitation to the map. It’s a lead paint risk map; it doesn’t contain data on the locations of old lead service laterals found in drinking water systems throughout the country.

Map results are based on the most recent census--specifically the age of housing and poverty factors.

Rad Cunningham, Healthy Community Design manager with the DOH, told Gov1 that “age of housing and poverty together we think give the best estimate of risk that we can get with a nationally available data set.”

Since the census doesn’t collect data on lead service lines, according to Cunningham, the map doesn’t account for lead risk based on lead service laterals in older drinking water systems.

“Lead in drinking water isn’t one of the top risk factors of lead poisoning,” said Cunningham.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates “drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead.” Numerous voices, including environmental advocates like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have been calling for the full scale removal of lead service lines.

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority mapped its lead service lines and posted the searchable data online, and EDF is calling DCWASA’s efforts a model for utilities across the U.S.

Finding the locations of lead service lines in most cases needs to be done at the local level. As we know from the Flint crisis, mapping them can be an undertaking, but it can be done.

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.