Lead: Science and Technology
EPA, its federal partners at the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and private organizations have conducted and used lead research and applied science to:
- Support federal policies through sound science and analysis,
- Determine the linkage between environmental lead levels and children's blood lead levels,
- Assess the extent of lead and lead hazards in the United States,
- Evaluate ways to reduce children's lead exposure, and
- Foster the development of better ways to identify and control lead hazards to minimize childhood lead poisoning exposures and health effects.
On this page you will find scientific and technical information on lead, including that on which EPA has relied to shape its lead policies and regulations:
- EPA Lead Research:
- HHS Lead Research:
- HUD Lead Research
- Other Lead Research
EPA Lead Research
Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil
The greatest exposure to lead from lead paint occurs as a result of swallowing or breathing in lead-based paint chips, dust and soil. Many houses and apartments built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly.
Read the technical and scientific studies and analyses on which EPA has based its lead in dust and soil regulations as well as its abatement and lead repair, remodeling and painting rules on our technical studies page.
Exposures to Recycled Tire Material
Crumb rubber — also called "tire crumb" or "ground rubber" — is recovered from scrap tires or from the tire retreading process. It is used in road construction and in a number of athletic and recreational applications, including ground cover under playground equipment, running track material, and as a soil additive on sports and playing fields.
Elevated levels of lead have been detected on some artificial turf fields in New Jersey. In response to these concerns, EPA convened in 2008 an agency workgroup that initiated a limited-scale scoping study to test a study protocol and monitoring methods for generating environmental data associated with the use of recycled tire material on artificial turf fields and playgrounds. As part of this evaluation, data were collected at a limited number of sites.
The workgroup implemented the full study protocol at two synthetic turf fields and one playground. They collected additional samples at four other synthetic turf fields and a second playground. Sampling sites were located in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Maryland. The average extractable lead concentrations for turf field wipe samples were low. Read more about EPA's study on crumb rubber.
Lead in Air
Science Review of National Standards for Lead in the Air
Lead was first listed in the late 1970s as an air pollutant requiring regulation under the Clean Air Act through development of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Consistent with the Clean Air Act requirements, EPA periodically reviews the scientific basis for these standards by preparing an Integrated Science Assessment (ISA). In preparing the ISA, EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment evaluates the latest research findings concerning the public health and welfare effects of lead. The ISA provides the scientific basis for EPA’s review of the NAAQS. The references considered in the development of the ISA are available in the Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) database.
Risk and Technology Review of Emission Standards for Lead From Industries
Consistent with Clean Air Act requirements, EPA periodically reviews and revises, as necessary, emission standards for air toxics (including lead) from industries. In late 2011, EPA completed residual risk and technology reviews of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for the Primary Lead Processing and Secondary Lead Smelting categories. As a part of these reviews, EPA evaluated developments in practices, processes, and control technologies for these industries since the original emission standards were published. Read more on the risk and technology reviews for these and other categories.
Lead in Water
Lead is rarely found in ground water, and generally occurs at very low levels in surface water. But it can occur in drinking water as a result of corrosion of plumbing materials, such as lead pipes, fixtures and solder.
Drinking Water Distribution System Corrosion Research
Lead has been used to produce service lines and solder (both banned since 1988), and a variety of brass pipes and plumbing devices. Drinking water contains a large number of chemicals, including disinfection byproducts, corrosive agents, dissolved organic matter, trace metals, minerals, and additives such as fluoride. As a result, drinking water science is a complicated interplay among the chemical constituents as well as the physical conditions. Read more about EPA's research on lead corrosion.
Phytoremediation is the use of plants to partially or substantially remove selected contaminants, including lead, in contaminated soil, sludge, sediment, groundwater, surface water, and wastewater. It uses a variety of plant biological processes and the physical characteristics of plants to aid in site clean-up. Read more about phytoremediation of contaminated soil and ground water at hazardous waste sites.
Monitored Natural Attenuation (MNA)
After chlorinated solvents are spilled or leak into soil or ground water, natural processes may occur that destroy or alter the chemicals. EPA scientists have led the way in developing the agency's approach for applying and assessing MNA as a cleanup tool for contaminants in ground water, including lead. Surface waters and ground waters can become contaminated with lead through sources like the fall-out of atmospheric dust, industrial and municipal wastewater runoff, mineral fertilizers and pesticides, lead-based paints, and wastes from the mining, metals, chemical, and petrochemical industries. Read more about MNA.
Lead at Superfund Sites
Reclamation of Lead Waste
EPA identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. These sites are then placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and are targeted for long-term federal clean-up activities. As one of the most frequently occurring contaminants, lead has been found at over half of current or former NPL sites. Read more about addressing lead at Superfund sites.
Other Federal Agencies
HHS and HUD studies provided supporting information for EPA's lead rules, including the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, abatement regulation, and hazard standards.
HHS Lead Research
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CDC's National Lead Information Center provides a wide array of information on lead, including links to research.
- Childhood Lead Poisoning Publications
- Workplace Safety and Health Topics provides numerous links to lead research.
- See CDC State Surveillance Data to get local information on:
- Number of children with elevated lead levels
- Percentage of children tested for lead
- Number of children tested for lead
- Adult blood-lead epidemiology and surveillance.
- Blood Lead Levels – United States, 1999-2002; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 27, 2005, 54(20); 513-6.
- Surveillance for Elevated Blood Lead Levels Among Children - United States, 1997-2001; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, September 12, 2003, 52(SS10); 1-21.
- Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Metals, Lead (PDF) (58 pp, 358K, About PDF); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.
- Blood Lead Levels in Young Children - United States and Selected States, 1996-1999; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, December 22, 2000, 49(50); 1133-7.
- Exposure of the U.S. Population to Lead, 1991-1994; Pirkle, JL; Kaufman, RB; Brody, DJ; Hickman, T; Gunter, EW; Paschal, DC, Environmental Health Perspectives, November 1998, Volume 106, Number 11: 745-50.
- Update: Blood Lead Levels - United States, 1991-1994; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, February 21, 1997, 46(7); 141-6.
- Erratum: Vol. 46, No. 7, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 4, 1997, 46(26); 607.
- Blood Lead Levels - United States, 1988-1991; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, August 5, 1994, 43(30); 545-548.
- Current Trends in Blood Lead Levels in U.S. Population; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 19, 1982, 31(10); 132-4.
- National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH)
- National Institutes of Health
- National Toxicology Program, Health Effects of Low-Level Lead Evaluation
- Environmental Lead after Hurricane Katrina: Implications for Future Populations
- Agency for Toxic Studies and Disease Registry (ATSDR)