The toxicity of Pb to humans has been known for over 2,000 years, and is not disputed. The general population may be exposed to Pb in ambient air, foods, drinking water, soil, and dust. Pb has also been found in a variety of other consumer products including storage batteries, solders, pottery glazes, leaded crystal glassware, cosmetics, hair dyes, jewelry, gun shot and ammunition, relic fishing sinkers, tire weights, imported children’s toys, and traditional or folk remedies. For adults, exposure to levels of Pb is usually associated with occupational exposures. For children, exposure to high levels of Pb is associated with living in areas contaminated by Pb (e.g., soil or indoor dust in older homes with Pb-based paint). Older homes with lead pipes have been a source of high lead exposure due to high lead levels in drinking water.
Toxic effects of Pb have been observed in every organ system that has been rigorously studied. The most extensively studied health outcomes are neurological, renal, cardiovascular, hematological, immunological, reproductive, and developmental effects. Neurological effects of Pb are of greatest concern because effects are observed in infants and children and may result in life-long decrements in neurological function. Infants may be born with a Pb burden derived from maternal transfer in utero and subsequently can continue to absorb maternal Pb from ingestion of breast milk. Children are also more vulnerable because of behaviors that increase ingestion of Pb surface dusts (e.g., hand-to-mouth activity) and because gastrointestinal absorption of ingested Pb is higher in children compared to adults, possibly due to a combination of physiological differences and differences in diet and nutrition.
In adult males and females reproductive effects, such as damage to sperm and alterations in hormone production have been noted.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2020. Toxicological Profile for Lead. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service