Lead and Health

For Healthcare Providers
For Families
For Child Cares
Information and Resources About Lead
Case Counts and Data
Renovating and Remodeling Safely
Federal Guidance
Everett Smelter Site
Frequently Asked Questions

Lead is a common, naturally occurring heavy metal that has been used for hundreds of years but is toxic to our bodies.

If even a small amount of lead gets into our body, it can cause damage and health problems that can’t be reversed. All people can be affected by lead, but children 6 years or younger are more vulnerable because their developing brains and bodies absorb lead more easily than older children or adults. When lead is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream it can take the place of calcium and iron in bones. Lead also causes permanent damage to the brain and nervous system. 

That’s why it’s very important for children to be tested for lead poisoning.

There is no “safe” level of lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set 3.5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) as a reference level for healthcare providers, but it does not indicate a “safe” level.

Even at low levels, lead can be associated with:

  • anemia
  • attention deficit disorder
  • behavior issues
  • decreased bone growth
  • decreased muscle growth
  • decreased intelligence
  • kidney damage
  • learning disabilities
  • nervous system damage
  • speech and language impairment

In rare cases, very high levels of lead are life-threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.

The use of lead has been reduced or eliminated products like house paint, gasoline, and drinking water pipes. However, old and new products containing lead can still be found in homes and the environment, and these contribute to lead poisoning.