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In the 2nd century BCE, Dioscorides noted, "Lead makes the mind give way." In modern times, lead has been heavily used in paint and as a gasoline additive. Even low levels of lead exposure cause subtle brain damage in children; this was recognized and acted upon only in the last thirty years. It is now well documented that even blood lead levels below 10 µg/dL can harm the developing brain. Lead has no beneficial biological effects.

Lead is naturally present in soil and water at very low levels, but people have caused extensive distribution of lead in the environment. Lead's physical properties of low melting point, easy malleability, corrosion resistance, and easy availability make it well suited to applications both ancient and modern. It is found alongside gold and silver, making lead both a by-product and a contaminant during the smelting of these precious metals. The earliest recorded lead mine dates from 6500 BC, in Turkey.

Lead: Quick Facts

Uses: batteries, old paint, stabilizer in PVC plastic, solder, toys, hobby materials, X-ray shielding, smelters, ammunition, wheel weights, and more. Previously used in gasoline and pesticides.

Source: home, paint, dust, toys, contaminated soil, workplace, ethnic health remedies

Recommended daily intake: none (not essential)

Absorption: intestine (50% kids, 10% adults), inhalation

Sensitive individuals: fetus, children, and women of childbearing age

Toxicity/symptoms: developmental and nervous system, lowered IQ, memory and learning difficulties, behavioral problems

Historical use: long history of use, major problem in paint of older housing, areas around old smelters can be contaminated

Global: widespread environmental contaminant

Recommendations: avoid, wash hands, wash children's hands and toys, phase out uses in PVC and children's products, remove old lead-based paint


Relevant Topics on Toxipedia

Teaching Resources

Powerpoint Presentations
Powerpoint Presentation on lead

"Converging Issues: Lead, Ethics, and Our Children's Potential". Department of Psychology and Center for Developmental Psychobiology, SUNY, Binghamton University Binghamton, NY. April 29, 2005.

"Lead and Child Development or Why the CDC Should Lower The Blood Lead Action Level From 10 to 2 mcg/dL". Out of Harm's Way: Preventing Toxic Threats to our Children's Health. Sponsor WPSR. October 15, 2005. Spokane, WA

ATSDR Environmental Health & Medicine Education - Lead

Breaking News

Lead News from *Environmental Health News*


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