Half of US population exposed to adverse lead levels in early childhood

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Mar 15;119(11):e2118631119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2118631119. Epub 2022 Mar 7.


SignificanceConsiderable effort is expended to protect today's children from lead exposure, but there is little evidence on the harms past lead exposures continue to hold for yesterday's children, who are victims of what we term legacy lead exposures. We estimate that over 170 million Americans alive today were exposed to high-lead levels in early childhood, several million of whom were exposed to five-plus times the current reference level. Our estimates allow future work to plan for the health needs of these Americans and to inform estimation of the true contributions of lead exposure to population health. We estimate population-level effects on IQ loss and find that lead is responsible for the loss of 824,097,690 IQ points as of 2015.

Keywords: cognitive; lead; population.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Health Impact Assessment
  • Humans
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Lead Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Symptom Assessment
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Lead