Children's exposure to environmental lead: A review of potential sources, blood levels, and methods used to reduce exposure

Environ Res. 2022 Mar;204(Pt B):112025. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.112025. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Lead has been used for thousands of years in different anthropogenic activities thanks to its unique properties that allow for many applications such as the manufacturing of drinking water pipes and its use as additives to gasoline and paint. However, knowledge of the adverse impacts of lead on human health has led to its banning from several of its applications, with the main goal of reducing environmental pollution and protecting human health. Human exposure to lead has been linked to different sources of contamination, resulting in high blood lead levels (BLLs) and adverse health implications, primarily in exposed children. Here, we present a summary of a literature review on potential lead sources affecting blood levels and on the different approaches used to reduce human exposure. The findings show a combination of different research approaches, which include the use of inspectors to identify problematic areas in homes, collection and analysis of environmental samples, different lead detection methods (e.g. smart phone applications to identify the presence of lead and mass spectrometry techniques). Although not always the most effective way to predict BLLs in children, linear and non-linear regression models have been used to link BLLs and environmental lead. However, multiple regressions and complex modelling systems would be ideal, especially when seeking results in support of decision-making processes. Overall, lead remains a pollutant of concern and many children are still exposed to it through environmental and drinking water sources. To reduce exposure to lead through source apportionment methods, recent technological advances using high-precision lead stable isotope ratios measured on multi-collector induced coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS) instruments have created a new direction for identifying and then eliminating prevalent lead sources associated with high BLLs.

Keywords: BLLs; Children; Environmental sources; Lead; Source apportionment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropogenic Effects
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants* / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis
  • Lead Poisoning* / prevention & control


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Lead