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Water: School & Child Care Facilities

Health Effects

Lead is a toxic metal that is harmful to human health. Lead has no known value to the human body. The human body cannot tell the difference between lead and calcium, which is a mineral that strengthens the bones. Like calcium, lead remains in the bloodstream and body organs like muscle or brain for a few months. What is not excreted is absorbed into the bones, where it can collect for a lifetime.

Young children, those 6 years and younger, are at particular risk for lead exposure because they have frequent hand-to-mouth activity and absorb lead more easily than do adults. Children's nervous systems are still undergoing development and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of toxic agents. Lead is also harmful to the developing fetuses of pregnant women.

No safe blood lead level in children has been determined. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system (brain), particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed. Low levels of lead in blood (those below 10 ug/dL) have been associated with reduced IQ and attention span, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss. Very high blood lead levels (70ug/dL or greater) can cause severe neurological problems such as coma, convulsions, and even death. The only method to determine a child's lead level is for them to have a blood lead test done by a health provider.

The degree of harm from lead exposure depends on a number of factors including the frequency, duration, and dose of the exposures(s); and individual susceptibility factors (e.g., age, previous exposure history, nutrition, and health). In addition, the degree of harm depends on one's total exposure to lead from all sources in the environment—air, soil, dust, food, and water. Lead in drinking water may be a significant contributor to overall exposure to lead, particularly for infants whose diet consists of liquids made with water, such as baby food or formula.

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