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Lead Contamination

Check out APHA's three-part webinar series on lead exposure and health

Lead is a naturally occurring metal used to make common products like batteries and pipes. While it has beneficial uses, lead can be toxic. 

We can be exposed to lead by breathing contaminated air or dust, drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated foods. Children can be exposed by eating paint chips containing lead (from paint in homes built before 1978) or eating contaminated soil. 

water fountain peeling paint and chemical symbol for lead

Who is at risk?

Children — Exposure to lead is particularly harmful to children because their bodies are still developing. Behaviors like putting hands and objects in their mouths leave infants and small children at increased lead exposure risk.

Pregnant women — Lead can cross the placenta and be passed though breastmilk.

Adults — Adults are most often exposed by work activities and hobbies (including rehabbing older homes, gardening in contaminated soil and making stained glass), or consuming food or water contaminated by lead.

Health risks of lead exposure:

•Slowed growth
•Lower IQ
•Learning difficulties
•Reproductive problems
•Cardiovascular effects
•Reduced kidney function

How to reduce potential exposure to lead:

•Keep products containing lead out of the hands and mouths of children.
•Regularly wash children’s hands and toys.
•Mop your floors and wet-wipe your windowsills every 2-3 weeks.
•Prevent or reduce access to lead-based paint that is peeling.

Main routes of exposure:

Household environment 

The symptoms of lead exposure are not immediately noticeable. If you think you have been exposed, your physician can administer a blood test to confirm lead exposure.

Everyone deserves access to safe drinking water. Yet in Flint, Michigan, lead in the water supply caused many in the community to be exposed and, ultimately, resulted in lead poisoning in many children. This case has brought about concerns of inequities and environmental injustice. As a public health priority, systems must be in place that reduce and respond to environments that are harmful to the public’s health. This requires more resources to communities facing the greatest threats.

APHA supports the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative's goal to speed up voluntary lead service line replacement in communities across the United States. The collaborative encourages the removal of lead lines that are in contact with drinking water.

American Journal of Public Health Articles
APHA Policy Statements on Lead
In the News
Helpful Resources