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Objectively measured external building quality, Census housing vacancies and age, and serum metals in an adult cohort in Detroit, Michigan



Residentially derived lead pollution remains a significant problem in urban areas across the country and globe. The risks of childhood residence in housing contaminated with lead-based paint are well-established, but less is known about the effects of housing quality on adult lead exposure.


To evaluate the effects of residential-area housing age, vacancy status, and building quality on adult lead exposures.


We evaluated the effect of Census block group housing vacancy proportion, block group housing age, and in-person survey evaluated neighborhood building quality on serum levels of lead, mercury, manganese, and copper among a representative cohort of adults in Detroit, Michigan, from 2008–2013 using generalized estimating equations.


Participants in Census block groups with higher proportions of vacant and aged housing had non-significantly elevated serum lead levels. We identified similar positive associations between residence in neighborhoods with poorer objectively measured building quality and serum lead. Associations between Census vacancies, housing age, objectively measured building quality, and serum lead were stronger among participants with a more stable residential history.


Vacant, aged, and poorly maintained housing may contribute to widespread, low-level lead exposure among adult residents of older cities like Detroit, Michigan. US Census and neighborhood quality data may be a useful tool to identify population-level lead exposures among US adults.


Using longitudinal data from a representative cohort of adults in Detroit, Michigan, we demonstrate that Census data regarding housing vacancies and age and neighborhood survey data regarding housing quality are associated with increasing serum lead levels. Previous research has primarily focused on housing quality and lead exposures among children. Here, we demonstrate that area-level metrics of housing quality are associated with lead exposures among adults.

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Fig. 1: Exclusion criteria.
Fig. 2: Spatial distribution of housing exposures.
Fig. 3: Block group housing vacancies, age, and serum metals.
Fig. 4: Neighborhood building quality and serum metals.
Fig. 5: Principal components 1–3 and serum metals.

Data availability

The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are not publicly available due to the presence of identifiable information on DNHS participants, but can be made available from Allison Aiello upon reasonable request.


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The Detroit Neighborhood Health Study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA022720) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01 MD011728). Funds for serum testing of Pb, Hg, Mn, and Cu were provided by a 2018 UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility Pilot Project (P30 ES010126). Lodge was supported by the Biostatistics for Research in Environmental Health Training Grant (T32 ES007018, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), the Carolina Population Center Population Research Training Grant (T32 HD007168, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development), and an F30 fellowship (F30 ES032302, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences). This research is funded in part by the intramural program of the NIEHS (ZIAES103332).

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Authors and Affiliations



SG and AEA designed and managed the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study. EKL, CLM, RCF, AJW, CKWC, and AEA conceived of this secondary analysis. EKL conducted all data analysis and visualization with support from CLM, RCF, AJW, CKWC, and AEA. EKL drafted the manuscript with editorial and subject-matter support from CLM, RCF, AJW, CKWC, SG, and AEA. EKL finalized and submitted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Evans K. Lodge.

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Competing interests

Dr. Ward-Caviness is a scientific advisor for the Clock Foundation. The Clock Foundation had no role in any aspect of this manuscript. All authors declare they have no real or potential conflicts of interest. This manuscript does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Any mention of trade names does not constitute endorsement by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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Lodge, E.K., Martin, C.L., Fry, R.C. et al. Objectively measured external building quality, Census housing vacancies and age, and serum metals in an adult cohort in Detroit, Michigan. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2022).

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  • Lead
  • Housing vacancies
  • Urban blight
  • Building quality


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