MDH and local communities partner to study Minnesota children’s chemical exposures


Press release

February 9, 2022

Contact information

The project has identified the ways children can come into contact with chemicals, ways to reduce exposures

An innovative partnership between the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and community partners in Minneapolis and Greater Minnesota has produced useful new information about Minnesota children’s exposure to chemicals in their environment. The project found that chemical exposure is a potential concern for children in the state, but the specifics of the concern vary by location, racial/ethnic group, household practices and other factors.

The Healthy Rural and Urban Kids Project measured 21 chemicals in the urine of 232 children from two communities: neighborhoods in north Minneapolis and three counties in north-central Minnesota. Both regions have long been concerned about potential exposures to chemicals in their environment and the project was developed to address these concerns.

The chemicals chosen for the project are those that can be measured in urine and can tell scientists something about potential exposure to air pollution, metals and pesticides. As part of their early childhood screening visits, children whose families consented were enrolled in the project. MDH has partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools and local public health agencies in Becker, Todd, and Wadena counties to provide family participation in multiple languages.

This was Minnesota’s first biomonitoring project focused on preschoolers. Public health officials hope the project results will help inform new strategies to protect children from exposure to environmental chemicals that can impact their health, said Jessica Nelson, director of the biomonitoring program at the MDH.

“Children’s developing bodies are particularly vulnerable to chemicals in our environment, and these findings help us learn more about the potential ways Minnesota children may come into contact with certain chemicals,” Nelson said. “Having a better understanding of this gives us a solid foundation to develop new approaches to limit harmful exposures.”

The project found that chemical exposures differed between rural and urban areas and between different groups.

  • Urban area children had higher urine levels of air pollution chemicals compared to rural children and the US average for children. These chemicals are part of a large class of chemicals made during combustion called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.
  • Rural children had higher urine levels of a pesticide compared to city children (but not higher than the US average for children). This pesticide, called 2,4-D, is an herbicide used on certain agricultural crops and for the treatment of lawns.
  • Children who ate rice frequently had higher urine arsenic levels than those who did not eat rice frequently.
  • Urban children whose family recently used a pesticide at home had higher levels of a chemical pesticide in their urine than children whose family did not use a pesticide at home. The discovery of this chemical pesticide indicates exposure to synthetic pyrethroids – insecticides associated with household pesticide sprays, bug sprays, mosquito sprays and certain agricultural practices.

For more detailed results, see the Healthy Rural and Urban Children Community Report on the MDH website.

The project’s results point to equity issues that are important to address, Nelson said, such as the finding that some Asian American children in the project had higher urine arsenic levels than others. other groups. Urinary arsenic level in children is associated with rice consumption.

“Rice is a healthy food that many families eat, and the food is an important part of cultural identity,” Nelson said. “We need to do more to make sure all families have access to safe choices for the foods they enjoy.” The report provides information on which types of rice contain less arsenic and how to reduce arsenic levels in rice.

The report and accompanying factsheets (translated into Hmong, Somali and Spanish) offer ways for families to reduce their exposure to other chemicals as well.

MDH’s experience with the project helped it secure new funding through a grant from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand the work to a statewide program. Healthy Kids Minnesota will expand the work to all regions of the state over the next five years and include more children and types of chemicals. St. Paul and northeast Minnesota will be the next areas to be included in the project starting this year.


Media inquiries:

Scott Smith

MDH Communications


[email protected]


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