Lead, a heavy metal, can be found in the air in gaseous and particle forms, depending on the source. Though one of the elements found in nature, lead is a health hazard for humans. Because of various regulations, such as the removal of lead from gasoline and paint, unhealthy levels of lead in the air are uncommon today. For more general information about lead, please read EPA’s Lead Information page.
When lead enters the body, it is distributed by the blood and accumulates in bones. Lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, brain, and cardiovascular system. Lead exposure also affects the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Infants and young children are especially sensitive to even low levels of lead. There is no known safe level of lead in the body.
Lead accumulates in soils and sediments through deposition from air sources, direct discharge of waste streams to water bodies, mining, and erosion. Ecosystems near sources of lead display a wide range of adverse effects including losses in biodiversity, changes in community composition, decreased growth and reproductive rates in plants and animals, and neurological effects in vertebrates.
Historically, a major source of lead emissions has been fuel for on-road motor vehicles. Lead was also once a common component in paint. In the early 1980s, lead was removed from on-road vehicle gasoline and other products, which led to a 94% reduction in the level of lead in the air between 1980 and 1989. Today, sources of lead include ore and metals processing, burning of aviation fuels, car battery plants, burning of lead-based paint, and incinerators. Please see EPA’s Air Emissions Sources page for more about lead sources.
Please see Lead Attainment Status and Trends for more information.