Lead Exposure - Sources, Effects and Prevention

Environmental and Occupational Health Pearls: Lead Exposure

A bi-monthly feature providing clinical information and resources from Public Health Ontario on matters relating to environmental and occupational health. This edition considers the most important questions about lead exposure for family physicians.

Traces of lead, a naturally occurring element, are present nearly everywhere you look.

What's important for family physicians to know?

  • How are people exposed to lead? Sources of exposure include, ayurvedic medications, privately imported foods and pottery, lead from old paint and water pipes, work and hobby exposures.
  • What are the health effects?Acute lead poisoning may present with colicky abdominal pain; and hypochromic, microcytic anemia.   Lower levels of exposure are associated with population level effects on neurocognitive development in children and increased blood pressure in adults.
  • What should I do? Enquire about possible unusual sources of exposure to lead. Blood lead can be ordered where there is a high index of suspicion. Follow-up by public health at levels BLL ≥0.48 µmol/L may identify actionable sources of exposure.

For additional reading see the Cochrane Review's Household interventions for preventing domestic lead exposure in children.