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PEHSU Fact Sheet on Lead and Drinking Water: Information for Health Professionals Across the United States (2016) > Background


posted on Aug 1, 2019
  • No measureable level of blood lead is known to be without deleterious effect. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established a new “reference level” for blood lead levels (≥ 5 µg/dL), thereby lowering the level at which evaluation and interventions (public health and clinical) are recommended.
  • The National Toxicology Program and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) Lead Integrated Science Assessment both concluded that adverse neurodevelopmental cognitive impacts occur at blood lead levels less than 5 µg/dL. New findings also suggest that the adverse health effects of chronically elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) extend beyond cognitive effects to include cardiovascular, immunologic, reproductive, developmental, and endocrine effects. Clinically overt effects such as anemia, abdominal pain, nephropathy, and encephalopathy may occur at BLLs as low as 45 µg/dL and are more likely as BLLs increase.
  • Lead paint and contaminated dust/soil are the highest dose sources of lead for US children.
  • US EPA estimates that drinking water can make up 20 percent or more of a person’s total exposure to lead. The contribution of exposure to lead from drinking water can be higher for young infants who consume mostly mixed formula.