On April 21, 2000, a two-year-old Sudanese refugee girl became the first child in the United States known to have died from lead poisoning in 10 years. Her exposure occurred in the United States and was caused by lead paint in the home.

Beginning in May 2004, after the resettlement of 242 refugee children, predominantly from Africa, it was discovered that a significant number of the children age range from 6 months to 15 years developed elevated blood lead levels after their arrival to the United States. Most of the children were resettled to a state that had established a policy to screen refugee children for lead during their initial health examination. The first blood lead screening was done within 90 days of the children’s arrival; the second screening was done 3 to 6 months after their placement in permanent residence. Most of the children had initial capillary blood lead levels <10 micrograms per deciliter, which supports the hypothesis that exposure occurred after arrival to the United States. Environmental investigations revealed moderate lead hazards in the residence, and some contamination in soil in play areas frequented by the children. The children showed evidence of extreme chronic malnutrition and other moderate to severe health conditions.

Lead poisoning continues to be a recurring problem for refugee children resettled in the United States. Although little is known about lead exposure in their country of origin, data collected and research supports that most of the children are poisoned after their resettlement to the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, developed the Lead Poisoning Prevention in Newly Arrived Refugee Children tool kit in response to the increasing number of refugee children entering in the United States and subsequently developing elevated blood lead levels.

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