Community- and family-level factors influence care-giver choice to screen blood lead levels of children in a mining community

S. M. Moodie, E. K. Tsui, E. K. Silbergeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Context: Bunker Hill, in Kellogg, Idaho, formerly a lead mine (1884-1981) and smelter (1917-1981), is now a Superfund site listed on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Priorities List. Lead contamination from the site is widespread due to past smelter discharges to land, water, and air, placing children at risk for both exposure to lead and resultant health effects of lead. Since 1983, the EPA has used child blood lead levels to inform the clean-up standards for the Bunker Hill Superfund site. This study was undertaken to examine factors that have contributed to the significant fall-off in the rates and numbers of children being screened for blood lead in Kellogg (number screened decreased from 195 to 8 from 2002 to 2007). The goal of this research project was to define community- and family-level factors which influence care-giver choice to screen blood lead levels of their children in this environment. Methods: This formative research study used mixed methods and was comprised of three research components: (1) preliminary interviews using community-based participatory research methods to define key research questions of relevance to community members, government and NGOs working in relation to the Bunker Hill clean-up; (2) a quantitative analysis of a cross-sectional household survey conducted with adult care-givers about child blood lead screening in Kellogg; and (3) ethnographic community rapid assessment methods formed the in-depth interview process and qualitative analysis. Results: The survey showed the likelihood of blood lead screening that for children under the age of 18 years increases 34% with each one-year increase in current age of the child (95% CI, 1.08-1.67, p-value=0.009), and decreases 45% with annual household income greater than 10,000 (95% CI, 0.35-0.88, p-value=0.013). Sibling birth order increased the likelihood of blood lead screening by 61% (95% CI, 1.04-2.48, p-value=0.032) for each successive child. Female children were rated by their care-givers as 3.7 times less agitated or easily angered than male children (95% CI, 1.5-8.8, p-value=0.005). Across all levels of interviews, regulators, residents, and non-governmental organization representatives reported that Kellogg's long history as a mining town has continued to influence attitudes and actions of care-givers to access blood lead screening for their children. The mining context has been described as instilling stigmas, parental blame and a sense of shame about lead exposure and resultant health effects. Discussion: Children under 6 years of age are currently the least likely to have been screened for lead in Kellogg and screening rates decreased in the 2000s. According to most indicators, socio-economic status did not influence the likelihood of a care-giver to screen children's blood lead levels. However, children in homes with an annual income below 10,000 were more likely to have been screened than the rest of the population. Former concerted screening efforts, including outreach, support, follow-up, and financial incentives in the 1980s-1990s to screen children, may have influenced low-income residents. Programmatic outreach for children under 6 years of age in Kellogg should focus on increasing female child and first child blood lead screening, rather than targeting only low-income families, by improving approaches to promotion, implementation and environmental follow-up for child lead screening. Some families have resided in Kellogg for five to six generations, and the long-term mining context influences community values and perceptions of lead exposure and screening for children through a conflicted combination of pride in the mining history, attachment to the past economy that supported the community in juxtaposition to the personalized blame, shame, guilt, and stigma associated with children having high blood lead levels. Health communication and other programs should prioritize methods of reducing parental feelings of blame, shame and guilt, and stigmas associated with the health effects of lead in a way that respects the pride of former mine workers, their families, and the history of the town.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-496
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Child
  • Community
  • Health
  • Lead
  • Mine
  • Superfund

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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