Lead is a toxic metal whose widespread use has caused extensive environmental contamination and health problems in many parts of the world. It is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems. Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relatively low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage.
Recent reductions in the use of lead in petrol, paint, plumbing and solder have resulted in a substantial reductions in population-level mean blood lead concentrations. However, significant sources of exposure still remain, particularly in developing countries.
Further efforts are required to continue to reduce the use and releases of lead and to reduce environmental and occupational exposures, particularly for children and women of child-bearing age. Interventions include eliminating non-essential uses of lead such as lead in paint, ensuring the safe recycling of lead-containing waste, educating the public about the importance of safe disposal of lead-acid batteries and computers, and monitoring of blood lead levels in children, women of child-bearing age and workers.
Short information documents for decision makers
Tools for action
- Toolkit for Establishing Laws to Control the Use of Lead in Paint
- Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint
- Blood lead levels in children (pdf). European Environment and Health Information System. Fact sheet No. 4.5, May 2007
- Technical guidelines for the environmentally sound disposal of waste lead-acid batteries (pdf). Secretariat of the Basel Convention (2003)
Norms and guidance values
- Guidelines for drinking-water quality (Fourth edition), Lead, chapter 12.1, pp383-384
- Air Quality Guidelines, Lead, pp149-153 (pdf)
Training for health care providers. Children's Health and Environment training package (2008)
- Childhood Lead Poisoning