Facts on... Lead

Background on Lead

Lead provides no known biological benefit to humans.

Lead can produce adverse effects on virtually every system in the body; it can damage the kidneys, the nervous system, the reproductive system, and cause high blood pressure. It is especially harmful to the developing brains of fetuses and young children.

There may be no lower threshold for some of the adverse effects of lead in children. In addition, the harm that lead causes to children increases as their blood lead levels increase.

Blood lead levels as low as 10 micrograms/deciliter (ug/dL) are associated with harmful effects on children's learning and behavior. We should try to prevent the occurrence of blood lead levels of 10 ug/dL and above in children.

Very high blood lead levels cause devastating health consequences including seizures, coma, and death.

Children with venous blood lead levels of 20 ug/dL or above or with venous BLLs in the range of 15-19 ug/dL over a period of at least 3 months need a doctor's care.

Elevated BLLs in children are a major preventable health problem that affects children's mental and physical health. The higher a child's BLL and the longer it persists, the greater the chance that the child will be affected. Elevated blood lead levels can result in:

Prevention of Childhood Lead Poisoning

Significant progress has been made in the United States in reducing overall rates of childhood lead exposure through comprehensive prevention strategies, including:

Remaining sources of lead exposure

Despite progress, major exposure sources still exist:

Other potential sources of lead exposure in some areas are:

The Current Situation

Between 83% and 86% of all homes built before 1978 in the United States have lead-based paint in them. The older the house, the more likely it is to contain lead-based paint and to have a higher concentration of lead in the paint.

Houses built before 1950 pose the greatest hazard to children because they are much more likely to contain lead-based paint than newer houses.

Average BLLs in the United States have fallen dramatically since the 1970s. Whereas in 1976-1980 the average BLL in children was 15ug/dL, in 1991-1994, the average was 2.7ug/dL.

However, some populations of children continue to be disproportionately exposed to lead. In general, children who live in older housing are more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than the population of U.S. children as a whole. According to a national survey, from 1991-1994:

Depending on the severity of a child's BLL, follow-up treatment can include:



Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention
National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH)

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