Lead poisoning cannot yet be relegated to the history books: new directions to help us achieve this goal


Lead remains a widespread environmental contaminant: although the elimination of lead from gasoline has led to a decline in atmospheric lead concentrations in many industrialized countries, humans are still exposed through food, water, soil and the old paintings.1 2 Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, due to direct ingestion or direct mouth contact, and children absorb lead more easily than adults. Once absorbed, lead is stored in bones and teeth, to be slowly released over many years. There is no safe concentration of blood lead (BLC) in children, and there appears to be a gradient of lead’s effect on the developing nervous system3 and the hematological, renal and reproductive systems.4 Although the United States, Australia and France have recommended that action be taken for BLC in children above 5 µg/dL (0.24 μmol/L), until recently the level public health action plan in England has been set at > 10 µg/dL (≥ 0.48 μmol/L), regardless of age.

What are the new guidelines?

From 5 July 2021, the BLC threshold (known as the “public health intervention concentration”) at which public health action is recommended in England has been reduced to ≥ 5 µg/dL (0.24 μmol/L), for children under 16 and for pregnant women. The upper threshold of ≥10 µg/dL (≥0.48 μmol/L) will still apply to adults. There are two main…


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