Learn about Lead | US EPA (2023)

General Lead Information

Learn about Lead | US EPA (1)

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Read more about lead in thisCDC informational graphic

  • What is lead?
  • Where is lead found?
  • Who is at risk?
  • Lead exposure data
  • What are the health effects of lead?
  • Lower your chances of exposure to lead
  • What do I do if I think my child or I have been exposed to lead?

What is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causinghealth effects.

Where is Lead Found?

Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including the use of fossil fuels including past use of leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilitiesand past use of lead-based paint in homes.Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunitionand cosmetics.

Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses. Lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400parts per million, mining, smeltingand refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.

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When lead is released to the air from industrial sources or spark-ignition engine aircraft, it may travel long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may move from soil into ground water depending on the type of lead compound and the characteristics of the soil.

Federal and state regulatory standards have helped toreduce the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.

Learn more about sources of lead exposure:

  • At home
  • At schools and child care facilities
  • In products
  • In drinking water
  • In outdoor air
  • In soil
  • In dust

Who is at Risk?

Children

Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead-based paint.

Adults, Including Pregnant Women

Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breath lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.

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Lead Exposure Data

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statisticsmonitors blood lead levels in the United States. Get information on the number of children with elevated blood lead levels, and number and percentage of children tested for lead in your area.

According to CDC (PDF)

  • The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
  • Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.

EPA uses the CDC data to show trends on blood lead levels in children in America’s Children and the Environment.

What are the Health Effects of Lead?

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead.

Children

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

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  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and Hyperactivity
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing Problems
  • Anemia

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.

Pregnant Women

Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother's bones along withcalcium and can pass from the motherexposing the fetus or the breastfeeding infant to lead. This can result in serious effects to thedeveloping fetus and infant, including:

  • Cause the baby to be born too early or too small;
  • Hurt the baby’s brain, kidney’s, and nervous system;
  • Increase the likelihood of learning or behavioral problems; and
  • Put the mother at risk for miscarriage.

Find out more about lead's effects on pregnancy and lactating women:

Other Adults

Lead is also harmful to other adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:

  • Cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension;
  • Decreased kidney function; and
  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women).

Read more on the health effects of lead

Lower Your Chances of Exposure to Lead

Simple steps like keeping your home clean and well-maintained will go a long way in preventing lead exposure. You can lower the chances of exposure to lead in your home, both now and in the future, by taking these steps:

  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Address water damage quickly and completely.
  • Keep your home clean and dust-free.
  • Clean around painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers. Wipe these areas with a wet sponge or rag to remove paint chips or dust.
  • Use only cold water to prepare food and drinks.
  • Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation.
  • Clean debris out of outlet screens or faucet aerators on a regular basis.
  • Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
  • Teach children to wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Ensure that your family members eat well-balanced meals. Children with healthy diets absorb less lead. SeeLead and a Healthy Diet, What You Can Do to Protect Your Child (PDF)| en español (PDF).
  • If you are having home renovation, repairs, or painting done, make sure your contractor is Lead-Safe Certified, and make sure they follow lead-safe work practices (PDF).

Determine if your family is at risk for lead poisoning with the Lead Poisoning Home Checklist (PDF).

What do I do if I think my child or I have been exposed to lead?

Talk to your pediatrician, general physician, or local health agency about what you can do.Your doctor can do a simple blood test to check you or your child for lead exposure. You may also want to test your home for sources of lead.

  • Take this postcardwith you to your child’s next appointment and ask your medical provider to give them a blood lead test.

FAQs

What is the EPA standard for lead? ›

EPA has set a standard for lead in the ambient air of 0.15 µg/m3 averaged over a calendar quarter. EPA has established 400 ppm for lead in bare soils in play areas and 1,200 ppm for non-play areas for federally funded projects.

What are US standards for lead levels? ›

CDC uses a blood lead reference value (BLRV) of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) to identify children with blood lead levels that are higher than most children's levels.

Is lead monitored by the EPA? ›

Air quality monitors located across the country measure how much lead is in the outside air. EPA tracks air quality trends for lead using data from this network of monitors. EPA also uses the monitoring data to determine which areas are not meeting the national lead standards.

What is the maximum amount of lead allowed by the EPA? ›

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has reduced the maximum allowable lead content -- that is, content that is considered "lead-free" -- to be a weighted average of 0.25 percent calculated across the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures and 0.2 percent for solder and flux.

What does EPA lead certified mean? ›

Lead Certification California is intended to identify important information covered by the rules and regulations established for CA. This includes specialized work practices and procedures when working on these older homes or buildings.

What level of lead is acceptable? ›

There is no safe blood level of lead. However, a level of 5 mcg/dL is used to indicate a possibly unsafe level for children. Children whose blood tests at those levels should be tested periodically. A child whose levels become too high — generally 45 mcg/dL or higher — should be treated.

How much lead is toxic in ppm? ›

A blood lead level >0.2ppm is indicative of lead exposure, and the level >0.35ppm is indicative of lead toxicity.

What levels of lead are hazardous? ›

There is no known safe blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 3.5 µg/dL may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems (1). As lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increase.

What lead level is too high? ›

In adults, a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or 0.24 µmol/L or above is considered elevated. Treatment may be recommended if: Your blood lead level is greater than 80 µg/dL or 3.86 µmol/L. You have symptoms of lead poisoning and your blood lead level is greater than 40 µg/dL or 1.93 µmol/L.

Is lead under the Clean Air Act? ›

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for lead and five other pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment (the other pollutants are ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.

Why is lead not in AQI? ›

Lead is not included in daily air quality reports

According to an EPA spokesperson, that's because the effects of lead pollution are cumulative. "The AQI focuses on health effects that may be experienced within a few hours or days," the spokesperson said in a written statement.

How much lead per day is toxic? ›

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, a blood lead level of 10 μg/dL or above is a cause for concern. However there is no threshold value below which lead exposure can be considered safe.

What level of lead is safe in water? ›

Risk from lead in water

EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero because lead can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels. Lead is a toxic metal that is persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the body over time.

Does tap water contain lead? ›

Lead found in tap water usually comes from the decay of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can trickle into the water supply.

Does lead certification expire? ›

The LEAD Certificate does not expire and does not need to be renewed. You will have an opportunity to print your certificate at the conclusion of the course.

Is lead OK in small amounts? ›

Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. It gets into your system through your bloodstream, and your body stores it in your organs, tissues, bones, and teeth.

Can you get lead poisoning from touching lead? ›

Touching lead is not the problem. It becomes dangerous when you breathe in or swallow lead. Breathing It - You can breathe in lead if dust in the air contains lead, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces.

How do you flush lead out of your body? ›

If lead levels in the blood are excessive, a procedure known as chelation therapy can help remove lead from the body. It involves either an oral or intravenous agent that binds to lead so that it can be cleared from the body in stool or urine.

How much lead is in bottled water? ›

Since lead pipes aren't used in the production of bottled water, the FDA has set the limit for lead in bottled water at 5 ppb (parts per billion). The FDA bottled water quality regulations require bottled water companies to regularly sample and analyze their water.

Can you boil lead out of water? ›

Don't: Boil water to remove lead ▪ Boiling water will not lower the amount of lead. Use hot water for drinking, cooking or making baby formula and baby cereal. Hot water is more likely to contain higher levels of lead.

Can lead be absorbed through the skin? ›

Dermal exposure plays a role for exposure to organic lead among workers, but is not considered a significant pathway for the general population. Organic lead may be absorbed directly through the skin. Organic lead (tetraethyl lead) is more likely to be absorbed through the skin than inorganic lead.

What does a lead level of 5 mean? ›

The average lead test result for young children is about 1.4 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL). 5-14 • Your child's lead level is high. A result of 5 µg/dL or higher requires action. • Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about your child's diet, growth and development, and possible sources of lead.

Can your body get rid of lead? ›

Most inhaled lead in the lower respiratory tract is absorbed. Most of the lead that enters the body is excreted in urine or through biliary clearance (ultimately, in the feces).

What is a good lead test result? ›

In adults, lead blood levels up to 10 mcg/dL are considered normal. Anywhere from 10 to 25 mcg/dL is a sign that you're regularly exposed to lead. At 80 mcg/dL, you should consider treatment. Levels lower than 80 mcg/dl with symptoms may also indicate a need for treatment.

Can lead levels be reversed? ›

Is There a Treatment for Lead Poisoning? There is no way of reversing damage done by lead poisoning, which is why pediatricians emphasize prevention. But a diet high in calcium, iron and vitamin C can help the body absorb less lead.

What is a toxic level of lead ppm? ›

A blood lead level >0.2ppm is indicative of lead exposure, and the level >0.35ppm is indicative of lead toxicity.

What is the EPA standard? ›

EPA Data Standards

EPA programs use data standards to provide consistently defined and formatted data elements and sets of data values. These standards improve public access to meaningful environmental data.

How much lead is allowed in food? ›

The IRL includes 10x safety factor which means that it is nearly ten times less than the actual amount of lead intake from food that would be required to reach the CDC's blood reference level. The calculated IRLs are 2.2 micrograms (µg) per day for children and 8.8 µg per day for females of childbearing age.

How many ppm lead is toxic? ›

Lead is the most common neurotoxin in the environment. Current standards define a lead blood level of 10 mcg/dL in the as being toxic in children. In adults, a level of 25 mcg/dL is considered toxic.

Can touching lead harm you? ›

Lead exposure occurs when a child comes in contact with lead by touching, swallowing, or breathing in lead or lead dust. Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health and cause well-documented adverse effects such as: Damage to the brain and nervous system. Slowed growth and development.

Can I brush my teeth with lead water? ›

It is okay for water with lead in it to touch your skin. Just don't drink it! You can still wash your hands and take a bath. Make sure you brush your teeth with the water from a sink with a filter on it.

Is lead poisoning reversible? ›

The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible. There is no known safe blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 3.5 µg/dL may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems (1).

What are 3 major responsibilities of the EPA? ›

The Environmental Protection Agency protects people and the environment from significant health risks, sponsors and conducts research, and develops and enforces environmental regulations.

What are the 3 main goals for the EPA? ›

The Plan renews commitment to EPA's three principles— follow the science, follow the law, and be transparent, while adding a fourth foundational principle: advance justice and equity.

What food has the most lead? ›

Fruit juices: 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, mixed fruit (67%), apple (55%), and pear (45%) Root vegetables: Sweet potatoes (86%) and carrots (43%) Cookies: Arrowroot cookies (64%) and teething biscuits (47%)

Does coffee contain lead? ›

Based on these data the intake of lead from coffee thus corresponds to approximately 20% of the total dietary intake of lead. Lead in coffee may originate from the brewing water, extraction from the coffee bean itself or from lead present in metal alloys in the brewing equipment (e.g. in weldings).

How long is lead toxic? ›

The half-life of lead in adult human blood has been estimated as 28 days. The body accumulates lead over a lifetime and normally releases it very slowly. Both past and current elevated exposures to lead increase patient risks for adverse health effects from lead.

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