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Lead and its Health Effects

Water Quality Control

  1. Shahida Quazi,
  2. Dibyendu Sarkar,
  3. Rupali Datta

Published Online: 15 JUL 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.wq426

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Quazi, S., Sarkar, D. and Datta, R. 2005. Lead and its Health Effects. Water Encyclopedia. 2:432–440.

Author Information

  1. University of Texas, San Antonio, Texas

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2005


Lead (Pb) is ubiquitous in nature, but anthropogenic activities have exacerbated the levels of Pb in the environment. In anthropogenically impacted systems, the primary sources of Pb include industrial activities such as mining operations, vehicle emissions, coal burning, refuse incineration, pesticide applications, and industrial outdoor paints applied to structural surfaces, which can increase the background soil lead levels by orders of magnitude. Between 1986 and 1995, the average Pb concentrations throughout the United States decreased by nearly 78%, with the total Pb emission decreasing about 32% as a result of the use of unleaded gasoline in automobiles, leaving Pb in paint-impacted soils as the principal source of exterior Pb exposure. The air quality standard stipulated by the EPA for Pb is 1.5 µg/m3 measured as an annual maximum quality average concentration. Lead exposure mainly occurs through inhalation of air and ingestion of Pb in food, paint, water, soil, or dust. It accumulates in blood, bones, and soft tissue and affects various organs of the body. High levels of Pb can result in anemia, kidney diseases, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments with children being affected at levels as low as 10 µg/dL or less. Although chelation therapy for Pb poisoning has been used for more than 40 years to increase urinary excretion of Pb and decease the total body burden, its use is controversial. This has prompted researchers to consider the role of adequate nutrition, especially calcium and iron, in the prevention of the adverse effects of Pb with special reference to the reduction of Pb mobilization due to calcium intake.