What is the prevalence of lead toxicity in the US?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Adefris Adal, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Within the United States, lead remains the most frequently encountered toxic metal, owing to long-term exposure. In children, exposure has been shown to be a result of living in houses that contain lead paint. It is currently estimated that approximately 4 million households within the United States have children living within them that are being exposed to lead. [10]

Evidence has shown that lead blood levels less than 10 μg/dL have been shown to have adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in children younger than 5 years. [11] The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention estimates that approximately 74,110 children aged < 5 years had a blood lead level of 5–9 µg/dL in 2013 (5 μg/dL is the level at which the CDC recommends that public health actions be initiated). In the US in 2013, 8,230 new cases of blood lead levels ≥10 µg/dLwere reported in children aged < 5 years. [10]

The median concentration of lead in the blood of children age 1 to 5 years dropped from 15 µg/dL in 1976–1980 to 0.7 µg/dL in 2013–2014, a 95% decrease. The largest declines in blood lead levels corresponded with the US Environmental Protection Agency phasing out leaded gasoline from 1973-1995. [12]

Lead exposure in the adult population is more commonly occupational, namely in mining, manufacturing, and construction. Overall, the national prevalence rate of blood lead levels ≥10 μg/dL in employed adults declined from 26.6 per 100,000 in 2010 (among 37 states) to 20.4 in 2013 (among 29 reporting states). In 2013, of the 4,547 adults with blood lead levels ≥25 μg/dL who had a known lead exposure history, 93.7% had occupational exposure [13]

In 2019, the National Poisoning Data System (NPDS) of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reported 2286 single exposures to lead. Of those exposures, 1080 were in children younger than 6 years, and 679 were in patients older than 19 years. [14]

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