Lead poisoning remains one of the worst public health crises in Cleveland. 

The city’s lead poisoning rates are about four times higher than the national average. 

Children exposed to the toxic metal at an early age can suffer brain damage and slow development. Many show social, behavioral and learning problems over time. 

There is no safe level of lead in a child’s bloodstream. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now use less than 3.5 micrograms per deciliter as a measurement to identify children with high levels of lead in their blood.

The most common way young children are exposed to the toxin is by ingesting lead-based paint chips or by inhaling dust in and around older homes and apartments. Most paint sold in the United States contained lead until 1978, when the federal government banned its use in residential paint. 

The crisis is most severe in neighborhoods such as Glenville and Clark-Fulton, which contains a high number of older homes. 

Swipe or click the arrow next to the image below for more detail.

On Jan. 22, 2019, representatives of the then-newly formed Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition stood inside City Hall’s rotunda to announce a robust plan to prevent lead poisoning. The coalition included city and county officials, residents and leaders from various healthcare, environmental and educational organizations.

Previous efforts focused on treating children after exposure.

The coalition decided to target the cause by cleaning up lead-tainted rental properties and houses in the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The coalition set an ambitious goal to significantly reduce the number of children exposed to lead by 2028.

In July 2019, the coalition helped pass landmark city legislation to required landlords to certify that their properties didn’t have an active lead hazard.This allows landlords and homeowners, particularly low-income property owners, to use less expensive means to control and contain known lead hazards instead of removing them completely. 

For more detail on the landmark 2019 legislation, click on the paint drops in the image below.

Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content

Over the next year, Signal Cleveland will be taking a closer look at the city’s progress toward reducing lead-poisoning cases and ensuring property owners comply with the 2019 lead law.

We also want to hear from Cleveland residents and property owners about their experiences since the law was passed. To share your stories, tips or concerns, contact Signal Cleveland Health Reporter Candice Wilder at candice@signalcleveland.org.

Read more about the progress made after the 2019 Lead law passed in Part Two of this series.

The Lead Safe Resource Center is offering a series of trainings for landlords on lead poisoning and preventions efforts. If you have questions as a tenant or landlord on how to make your home lead-safe, visit the coalition’s website at leadsafecle.org, or call 833-601-LEAD (5323).

Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.