Understanding Lead Toxicity and Lead Level Standards in the U.S.

Understanding Lead Toxicity and Lead Level Standards in the U.S.

Lead has been used extensively throughout the United States, particularly in the construction and renovation of homes and commercial buildings. As a metal, it has some useful properties which meant that it was used regularly including for pencils and day to day items. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until much more recently that we discovered the dangers of lead exposure.

Similarly, over time we have discovered more adverse effects that lead can present and as a result scientists believe that there is no safe level of lead exposure and have any lead at all in the bloodstream will increase your risk of health complications. For this reason, lead toxicity should be avoided at all costs.

Throughout the United States, the use of lead paint has been outlawed. Lead paint, in particular, is a culprit for health problems because once the paint begins to tear and chip it can be breathed in by those in the home or building. Once inside of your lungs the lead can be absorbed into your bloodstream far more efficiently, causing greater blood lead levels (BLL).

To prevent against this, efforts have been taken to remove much of the lead paint that was used in the US. However, despite this, a huge number of homes and buildings still contain lead paint, especially those which were constructed in the 70’s and before.

As a result, if you have a home or building that was constructed before 1978, you must have lead certified professionals to ensure that the area is safe for renovation. Their job is to control the dust and to minimize the exposure that those in the vicinity will have to the lead. Even an hour of this level of lead exposure can be dangerous, causing health problems like vomiting, sickness, decreased IQ, fatigue and developmental delays in children.

What is Lead Toxicity?

Lead toxicity is a hazard with the potential to cause serious health problems that can never be reversed or diminished. Lead enters the bloodstream and can interfere with your bodies normal operations, particularly in the central nervous, hepatic and renal systems. As a result, lead exposure may result in health problems that can stay with you for life.

While adults should minimize their exposure to lead, it’s most dangerous for children. The reason for this is because the lead can impact on systems in the body which aren’t fully developed and therefore it can stunt or even halt the growth of these systems. Unfortunately, by nature, children and infants are also the most likely to pick at paint chipping and even put them in their mouth, which is why lead paint is a critical health issue.

What are the Current Lead Level Standards in the U.S?

Scientists in the United States have consistently stated that there is no safe level of blood lead levels. Anything above zero will increase your risk of health problems considerably, and therefore exposure should be nullified. However, to test for lead toxicity the level used in 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Above this level children are deemed to have lead poisoning.

However, even below this level of exposure, the National Toxicology Program has concluded that there is significant evidence that there can be adverse health problems in both adults and children.

For OSHA, the organization that governs work standards, the permissible exposure limit for lead in the workplace is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. For those who are above 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air for more than 30 days each year, workers must have their blood lead levels tested regularly.

Decreasing Blood Lead Levels

Despite the issues that lead presents, the work that OSHA and EPA have done to certify workers as lead safe and to remove hazards has caused national blood lead levels to plummet. The rate in the 60’s was 60 micrograms per deciliter of blood, while now it is only 5, a more than 90% reduction in lead toxicity across the country.


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