Influence of Lead in Water on Lead in Childrens Blood a Bayesian Network Risk Model

Influence of Lead in Water on Lead in Children’s Blood: A Bayesian Network Risk Model

Presented at the 7th Annual BayesiaLab Conference at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.


Nationwide, more than 42.5 million Americans obtain their drinking water from private wells that are not regulated by the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. Recent research has shown that in some areas, the risk of lead in drinking water in houses relying on private wells is comparable to that in Flint, Michigan, during the highly publicized water crisis in 2015. Lead can cause irreversible neurological damage in children, leading to decreases in IQ, poor performance in school, and increased risk of juvenile delinquency. Yet, research has shown few private well owners are aware of the contamination risk, and few get their water tested for lead or other contaminants. This presentation will describe the development of a Bayesian network model to predict households where children are at the greatest risk of exposure to lead from drinking private well water. The model is based on a data set of 182,821 children’s blood lead test results obtained from the North Carolina Childhood Blood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. These records were matched with data on drinking water sources at each household obtained from county tax records, data on characteristics of each house (also from tax records), and neighborhood demographic information (from the U.S. Census). The model can be used to predict the probability that a child in a specific house has elevated blood lead as a result of exposure to lead in private well water, conditional on characteristics of the house and neighborhood. We plan to develop a web-based model version and train local health departments on the use of the model so that they can use it to prioritize outreach programs, encouraging those relying on private wells to test their water for lead and to install filters when lead is detected.

Presenter Biography

Jackie MacDonald Gibson has a multi-disciplinary background in mathematics and engineering that she applies to risk assessment and policy problems. Before her appointment as Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Indiana University, she was a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her prior experience also includes positions as Associate Director of the Water Science and Technology Board, U.S. National Research Council. She was also a Senior Engineer at the RAND Corp. She holds Ph.D. degrees in Engineering and Public Policy and Civil and Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and a B.A. in mathematics from Bryn Mawr College.

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