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Lead: Health Effects
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Lead in Products
Health Effects
Regulations & Policies
Lead Prevention
Assistance Activities
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Complete List of Links

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Finding Lead in the Home: Common Sources of Lead
Lists preventive measures to reduce exposure to lead in dust, lead-based paint, soil, water, food, a...

Health Impacts of Lead Poisoning: A Preliminary Listing of the Health Effects and Symptoms of Lead P...
Describes health effects and symptoms of lead poisoning in children and adults as well as prenatal d...

Where Lead Comes From
Lists places where lead commonly exists today.

Potential human health effects associated with lead poisoning are listed below.
  • kidney damage, including kidney failure
  • brain damage, including lower IQs, difficulties reading, memory problems, and mental retardation
  • nervous system, including poor coordination, numbness, and dizziness
  • reproductive problems, including infertility, low sperm counts, and decreased sex drive
  • developmental problems, including stunted growth and delayed system developments
  • behavioral problems, including lower attention spans, hyperactivity, aggression, social delinquency, poor judgment, and poor coping skills
  • miscarriages, small birth weights, and premature births in pregnant women and the above health effects to fetuses
  • anemia, hearing problems, high blood pressure, convulsions, comas, and weak joints

Although health effects associated with lead poisoning cannot be reversed, chelating agents can be used to rid the body of lead. These agents attach themselves to lead in the body and are then excreted in the urine.

Human Exposure to Lead

Lead can be present in air, dust, soil, water, and food. Although the ban of leaded gasoline in 1995 has eliminated this source of lead emissions to the air, lead is still present in soil. Industrial processes, such as lead smelting and lead-acid battery manufacturing, are now major contributors to lead air emissions.

Deterioration of lead-based paint is a prime contributor to the lead found in dust, and chipping exterior lead-based paint is a chief source of the lead found in the environment. Lead solder in some plumbing systems (residential, public water, or central water systems) can release lead into the water supply, contaminating drinking water.

Food is contaminated with lead by crops grown in contaminated soil and lead particle accumulation on crops. Also, improper use of leaded ceramic dishes or use of contaminated water while cooking are ways food can be exposed to lead once it enters the home.

Although small amounts of organic lead can be absorbed through the skin, humans are mainly exposed to lead through ingestion and inhalation. Even though lead-based paint was banned from residential use in 1978, lead-based paint ingestion is still the number one source of childhood lead poisoning. Lead from the paint can be ingested through eating paint dust or chips on children's hands or toys. Another major cause of lead exposure is hand-to-mouth activities after their hands have been exposed to lead-contaminated soil or dust. Pets can also track lead particles inside the house through their fur and paws.

Employees at lead smelting, refining, and lead-based product manufacturing facilities are the adults at greatest risk for developing lead poisoning. Other common occupations at risk of high levels of lead exposure are lead-acid battery manufacturers, rubber and plastic industry workers, construction workers, bridge workers, sandblasters, and solid waste incinerator workers. Listed below are additional occupations with risk of lead exposure:

  • deleaders
  • firing range employees
  • radiator repair workers
  • shipbuilders
  • ironworkers
  • lead miners
  • plumbers
  • steel welders or cutters
  • pipefitters
  • industrial and construction painters

Not only are these industrial workers at risk of being exposed to high levels of lead, their family members are also at risk for lead exposure through lead particles brought into the home on their clothes and shoes. Adults may also be exposed to high levels of lead through different hobbies, such as fishing, stained-glass making, and glazed pottery making. Additionally, people who eat or smoke when their hands contain lead particles are at an increased risk for developing lead poisoning.

Environmental Health effects of Lead

The presence of lead is not only a concern for human health but also for the health of wildlife. Lead shot and jigs that are discarded on the ground or in the water are particularly harmful to water fowl. Fortunately, lead does not tend to bioaccumulate in the food chain. However, the persistence of lead allows the metal to accumulate over time, increasing the risk of exposure.



The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Lead Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
Northeast Waste Management Officials' Association
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Hub Last Updated: 10/8/2013