Lead in drinking water and human blood lead levels in the United States

MMWR Suppl. 2012 Aug 10;61(4):1-9.


Lead is a pervasive environmental contaminant. The adverse health effects of lead exposure in children and adults are well documented, and no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified. Lead can be ingested from various sources, including lead paint and house dust contaminated by lead paint, as well as soil, drinking water, and food. The concentration of lead, total amount of lead consumed, and duration of lead exposure influence the severity of health effects. Because lead accumulates in the body, all sources of lead should be controlled or eliminated to prevent childhood lead poisoning. Beginning in the 1970s, lead concentrations in air, tap water, food, dust, and soil began to be substantially reduced, resulting in significantly reduced blood lead levels (BLLs) in children throughout the United States. However, children are still being exposed to lead, and many of these children live in housing built before the 1978 ban on lead-based residential paint. These homes might contain lead paint hazards, as well as drinking water service lines made from lead, lead solder, or plumbing materials that contain lead. Adequate corrosion control reduces the leaching of lead plumbing components or solder into drinking water. The majority of public water utilities are in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) of 1991. However, some children are still exposed to lead in drinking water. EPA is reviewing LCR, and additional changes to the rule are expected that will further protect public health. Childhood lead poisoning prevention programs should be made aware of the results of local public water system lead monitoring measurement under LCR and consider drinking water as a potential cause of increased BLLs, especially when other sources of lead exposure are not identified.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Guideline Adherence
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lead / analysis
  • Lead / blood*
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Lead Poisoning / prevention & control
  • Mass Screening
  • Public Health
  • Safety
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Water Supply / history
  • Water Supply / standards*


  • Lead