MDH, local communities team up to study Minnesota children’s chemical exposures

The project, including Todd and Wadena counties, identified ways kids may come in contact with chemicals, ways to reduce exposures.

Dispatch brief logo with glasses sit on a pad of paper with newspaper and cellphone in the background
Contributed / Metro Newspaper Service

A partnership between the Minnesota Department of Health and communities in Minneapolis and Greater Minnesota produced useful new information about Minnesota children’s exposure to chemicals in their environments.

The project found chemical exposure is a potential concern for children around the state, but the details 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 areas have long had concerns about potential exposures to chemicals in their environments and the project was developed to respond to those concerns.

The state health department partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools and the local public health agencies of Becker, Todd, and Wadena counties to offer participation to families in multiple languages.

The chemicals chosen for the project are ones that can be measured in urine and that 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. This was Minnesota’s first biomonitoring project focused on preschool-age children, the state reported. Public health officials hope the project results will help inform new strategies to protect children from exposure to environmental chemicals that may impact their health, explained Jessica Nelson, director of the health department’s biomonitoring program.


“Children’s developing bodies are especially vulnerable to chemicals in our environment and these results are helping us learn about potential ways Minnesota kids may be coming in contact with certain chemicals,” Nelson said in a news release. “Having a better understanding of this gives us a solid foundation for developing new approaches to limit harmful exposures.”

The project found chemical exposures differed across rural and urban areas and among different groups.

  • Children from the urban area had higher urine levels of air pollution chemicals compared to kids from the rural areas and the U.S. average in children. These chemicals are part of a large class of chemicals made during combustion called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.
  • Children from the rural areas had higher urine levels of one pesticide compared to urban children (but not higher than the U.S. average in children). This pesticide, called 2,4-D, is an herbicide used on some agricultural crops and for lawn treatment.
  • Children who ate rice frequently had higher urine arsenic levels than those who did not eat rice frequently.
  • Children from the urban area whose family recently used a pesticide in the home had higher urine levels of a pesticide chemical than children whose family did not use a home pesticide. Finding this pesticide chemical indicates exposure to synthetic pyrethroids — insecticides associated with home pesticide sprays, bug bombs, mosquito sprays, and some farming practices.

For more detailed findings, see the Healthy Rural and Urban Kids Community Report on the health department’s website.

The project 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 other groups. The urine arsenic level among children is associated with rice consumption.

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

The report and its accompanying information sheets (translated into Hmong, Somali, and Spanish) offer ways families can reduce exposures to the other chemicals as well.

The health department’s experience with the project allowed it to get new funding through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand the work into a statewide program. Healthy Kids Minnesota will expand the work to all areas of the state over the next five years and will 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.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.

Hi, I'm the Brainerd Dispatch. I started working a few days before Christmas in 1881 and became a daily paper two years later. I've gone through a lot of changes over the years, but what has never changed is my commitment to community and to local journalism. I've got an entire team of dedicated people who work night and day to make sure I go out every morning, whether in print, as an e-edition, via an app or with additional information at News, weather, sports — videos, photos, podcasts and social media — all covering stories from central Minnesota about your neighbors, your lakes, your communities, your challenges and your opportunities. It's all part of the effort to keep people connected and informed. And we couldn't do it without support.
What To Read Next
Linsey Strand, Tanya Bergman and Aaron Schmidtbauer are among the 131 nominees.
Thousands expected for annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza Saturday, Jan. 28, on Hole-in-the-Day Bay on Gull Lake.
Little Falls Flyers Nordic Invitational at Camp Ripley.
Attention teachers: Don't forget to submit your students' weather drawings to the Brainerd Dispatch, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, MN 56401