Lead poisoning risk factors

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Aksiniya Stevasarova, M.D.


Today almost everyone is exposed to environmental lead. The most potent risk factors in the development of lead poisoning are trough inhalation, ingestion or occasionally dermal contact with lead or lead particles.

Risk Factors

Common Risk Factors

  • Common risk factors in the development of lead poisoning include:
    • Lead mining and lead smelting, where children and adults can receive substantial lead exposure from sources uncommon today in the U.S.
    • ingestion of lead particles is common risk factor in the development of lead poisoning in children in the United States.
    • Inhalation is the second major pathway of exposure. Inhalation also contributes to lead body burden and may be the major contributor for workers in lead-related occupations. Almost all inhaled lead is absorbed into the body, whereas from 20% to 70% of ingested lead is absorbed (with children generally absorbing a higher percentage than adults do).
    • Dermal exposure plays a role for exposure to organic lead among workers, but is not considered a significant pathway for the general population, except in areas where leaded gasoline is used. Organic lead from gasoline additives may be absorbed directly through the skin.[1]
    • Soil represents another major risk factor for lead poisoning. Tetraethyllead, which used to be added to automotive gasoline (and still is added to some aviation gasolines), contributed to soil contamination. Residual lead in soil contributes to lead exposure in urban areas.[2] Lead content in soil may be caused by broken-down lead paint, residues from lead-containing gasoline, used engine oil, or pesticides used in the past, contaminated landfills, or from nearby industries such as foundries or smelters.Although leaded soil is less of a problem in countries that no longer have leaded gasoline, it remains prevalent, raising concerns about the safety of urban agriculture;[3] eating food grown in contaminated soil can present a lead hazard.[4]
    • Lead from the atmosphere or soil can end up in groundwater and surface water.[5] It is also potentially in drinking water, e.g. from plumbing and fixtures that are either made of lead or have lead solder.[6][7] Since acidic water breaks down lead in plumbing more readily, chemicals can be added to municipal water to increase the pH and thus reduce the corrosivity of the public water supply.[6] Chloramines, which were adopted as a substitute for chlorine disinfectants due to fewer health concerns, increase corrositivity.[8] In the US, 14–20% of total lead exposure is attributed to drinking water.[8] In 2004, a team of seven reporters from The Washington Post discovered high levels of lead in the drinking water in Washington, D.C. and won an award for investigative reporting for a series of articles about this contamination.[9][10] In the Flint water crisis, a switch to a more corrosive municipal water source elevated lead levels in drinking water in domestic tap water.[11][12]


  1. "Lead Toxicity: How Are People Exposed to Lead?". United States Center for Disease Control. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
  2. Barltrop D, Strehlow CD, Thornton I, Webb JS (November 1975). "Absorption of lead from dust and soil". Postgrad Med J. 51 (601): 801–4. doi:10.1136/pgmj.51.601.801. PMC 2496115. PMID 1208289.
  3. Murphy, K. (May 13, 2009). "For urban gardeners, lead is a concern". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  4. Yu (2005) p.188
  5. Yu (2005) p.187
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chisolm (2004) pp. 221–22
  7. Menkes (2006) p.703
  8. 8.0 8.1 Maas, RP; Patch, SC; Morgan, DM; Pandolfo, TJ (2005). "Reducing lead exposure from drinking water: recent history and current status". Public Health Reports. 120 (3): 316–21. PMC 1497727. PMID 16134575.
  9. "Alum Wins Investigative Reporting Award with Post Team". University of Maryland. February 25, 2005. Archived from the original on September 12, 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  10. "HONORS". The Washington Post. February 23, 2005.
  11. Christopher Ingraham (15 January 2016). "This is how toxic Flint's water really is". Washington Post.
  12. Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN (18 January 2016). "Flint's water crisis: 5 things to know - CNN.com". CNN. Archived from the original on 23 January 2016.

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