Soil is an important pathway of human lead exposure

Environ Health Perspect. 1998 Feb;106 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):217-29. doi: 10.1289/ehp.98106s1217.


This review shows the equal or greater importance of leaded gasoline-contaminated dust compared to lead-based paint to the child lead problem, and that soil lead, resulting from leaded gasoline and pulverized lead-based paint, is at least or more important than lead-based paint (intact and not pulverized) as a pathway of human lead exposure. Because lead-based paint is a high-dose source, the biologically relevant dosage is similar to lead in soil. Both lead-based paint and soil lead are associated with severe lead poisoning. Leaded gasoline and lead in food, but not lead-based paint, are strongly associated with population blood lead levels in both young children and adults. Soil lead and house dust, but not lead-based paint, are associated with population blood lead levels in children. Most soil lead and house dust are associated with leaded gasoline. Lead-based paint dust is associated with cases of renovation of either exterior or interior environments in which the paint was pulverized. Based upon the limited data to date, abatement of soil lead is more effective than abatement of lead-based paint in reducing blood lead levels of young children. About equal numbers of children under 7 years of age are exposed to soil lead and lead-based paint. Seasonality studies point to soil lead as the main source of population blood lead levels. Soil lead is a greater risk factor than lead-based paint to children engaged in hand-to-mouth and pica behavior. In summary, soil lead is important for addressing the population of children at risk of lead poisoning. When soil lead is acknowledged by regulators and the public health community as an important pathway of human lead exposure, then more effective opportunities for improving primary lead prevention can become a reality.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Dust
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Gasoline
  • Humans
  • Lead / blood
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology*
  • Paint
  • Soil Pollutants / poisoning*


  • Dust
  • Gasoline
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Lead