Facts About Lead Exposure

Facts About Lead Exposure

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 causing health effects.

Where is Lead Found?

Lead can be ingested from various sources, including – the air, the soil, food, water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities, which include past usage of leaded gasoline, and lead-based paint in older 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, ammunition, and cosmetics. Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses and 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 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.

The concentration of lead, the total amount of lead consumed, and the duration of lead exposure influence the severity of health effects. Because lead accumulates in the body, all sources of lead should be controlled or eliminated to prevent childhood lead poisoning.

Effects of Lead Exposure

The health consequences of lead exposure depend on the cumulative dose of lead and vulnerability of the individual person rather than the environmental media (i.e., food, water, soil, dust, or air) in which the lead exists.

Developing fetuses and children are more sensitive to lead exposure than adults because of the immaturity of the blood-brain barrier, increased gastrointestinal absorption, and hand-to-mouth behaviors, all of which increase exposure. However, adults who are exposed to lead report more colds and influenza and exhibit suppressed secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels, demonstrating lead-induced suppression of humoral immunity. Adults might also experience neurotoxic effects, including peripheral neuropathy. Lead also is nephrotoxic and can cause progressive nephron loss leading to renal failure, gout, and hypertension.

Lead exposure remains a concern for pregnant and lactating women, particularly those who have an occupational exposure to lead, who are recent immigrants, who are engaged in home renovations, or who have pica. Prenatal lead exposure has measurable adverse effects on maternal and infant health, such as fertility, hypertension, and infant neurodevelopment. In addition, because lead persists in bone for decades, as bone stores are mobilized to meet the increased calcium needs of pregnancy and lactation, women and their infants might be exposed to lead long after external sources have been removed. Adverse reproductive effects are not limited to women. In males with occupational lead exposure, abnormal sperm morphology and decreased sperm count have been detected.

How can I get tested?

Did you know you can order your own lab test to test for lead exposure right now, without consulting your healthcare provider? 

Simply choose the Lead Exposure Profile | HNL Lab Tests Direct listed below, and our board-certified physician will authorize you to have those tests performed by a reputable, accredited laboratory that meets the highest standards in laboratory testing. You will receive a laboratory requisition in your email that you can bring with you to more than 50 convenient patient testing locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

When your results are ready, we will let you know. Your test results are secure, confidential and available to only you. You can choose if you want to share your results with anyone else, including your doctor. Plus, you can track your results right on the website, so the entire experience fits right into your schedule.


Information provided by:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)