Lead has been reported to be an immunosuppressive agent in animal systems at levels far below those recognized as overtly toxic. Little data exist on lead's effects on the human immune system, especially in young children who are at greatest risk for exposure to this environmental hazard. The effects of environmental lead exposure on the human immune system were examined in a population of young children, age 9 months-6 years, from the urban population of Springfield-Greene County, Missouri. Reported here are data from 279 children with blood lead levels ranging from 1 to 45 microg/dl. White blood cell populations have been enumerated and examined for cell surface expression of activation markers. Serum has been analyzed for IgE, specific titers to Rubella vaccine, sCD25 (the soluble form of the IL2 receptor), sCD27 (the soluble form of the lymphocyte specific member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family), and IL4 (the cytokine interleukin 4). Variation of these assays with age of the child was considered in statistical analysis of data. A statistically significant relationship of IgE and blood lead level was found in this population; as blood lead (PbB) level increases, IgE level increases. No other statistically significant differences between risk categories or other associations with blood lead level were found. The exact mechanism for this apparent stimulus of IgE-producing B cells remains to be elucidated. The development of allergic symptoms is often preceded by an increase in IgE. These data indicate that ingested lead could play a role in this process by stimulating IgE production.