Lead is a naturally occurring metal that can be found in the Earth’s crust, especially where volcanic activities and geochemical weathering occur. Human activities related to lead release into the environment include mining, smelting, refining and informal recycling of lead, use of leaded petrol, production and recycling of lead-acid batteries and paints, soldering, ceramics manufactures; electronic waste and lead use in (old) water pipes.
Within the environment, lead can be found in atmospheric suspended particles, water, soil and biota in general. Routes of exposure include inhalation, oral and dermal. In humans, target organs are the brain, liver, kidney and bones. Lead concentration in blood, teeth and bones can be used to assess exposures.
Children are more vulnerable to health effects of lead due to different factors: behavioral (hands – month route), higher metabolic rates and developmental (including neurological development).
One important note is that the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO)/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that previous tolerable intake level of 25 µg/kg body weight per week was no longer health protective, and it was not possible to establish a new provisional tolerable weekly intake.
Risk mitigations efforts are strongly recommended for different scenarios.
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization