What are the Health Effects of Lead?

Children who may appear healthy can have elevated blood lead levels. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body without any symptoms. There is no known safe level of lead in the body. Blood lead testing is the only way to know if your child has elevated lead levels.


Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. The main target for lead toxicity is the nervous system. Even very low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in unseen symptoms such as:

  • Behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia

At very high exposure levels ingestion of lead can cause:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Death

Pregnant Women

Lead can accumulate in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from bones as maternal calcium is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is particularly true if a woman does not have enough dietary calcium. Lead can also be circulated from the mother’s blood stream through the placenta to the fetus and through breast milk. Lead in a pregnant woman’s body can result in serious effects on the pregnancy and her developing fetus, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth


Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults exposed to lead can suffer from:

  • Nervous system effects
  • Cardiovascular effects: increased blood pressure and incidence of hypertension
  • Decreased kidney function
  • Reproductive problems (in both men and women)