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Lead (Pb)


Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Please see www.epa.gov/airtrends for the latest information on Air Quality Trends.


Children at play in a safe environment Nature and Sources of the Pollutant: Smelters and battery plants are the major sources of lead in the air. The highest concentrations of lead are found in the vicinity of nonferrous smelters and other stationary sources of lead emissions.

Health Effects: Exposure to lead mainly occurs through inhalation of air and ingestion of lead in food, paint, water, soil, or dust. Lead accumulates in the body in blood, bone, and soft tissue. Because it is not readily excreted, lead can also affect the kidneys, liver, nervous system, and other organs. Excessive exposure to lead may cause anemia, kidney disease, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments such as seizures, mental retardation, and/or behavioral disorders. Even at low doses, lead exposure is associated with changes in fundamental enzymatic, energy transfer, and other processes in the body. Fetuses and children are especially susceptible to low doses of lead, often suffering central nervous system damage or slowed growth. Recent studies show that lead may be a factor in high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease in middle-aged white males. Lead may also contribute to osteoporosis in post-menopausal women. EPA's health-based national air quality standard for lead is 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) measured as an annual maximum quarterly average concentration.

Trends in Lead Levels: Between 1986 and 1995, average lead concentrations in urban areas throughout the country decreased 78 percent while total lead emissions decreased 32 percent. These reductions are a direct result of the use of unleaded gasoline in automobiles. The large reduction in lead emissions from transportation sources has changed the nature of the pollution problem for lead in the U.S. While there are still violations of the lead air quality standard, they tend to occur near large industrial sources such as lead smelters. Between 1994 and 1995, lead emissions decreased 1 percent while national average lead concentrations remained unchanged.

Lead Concentrations

Lead Emissions

This document is provided for historical purposes only. The most recent version can be found at AIRTrends


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