Science and Technology
Detecting Lead Paint in Homes
EPA has teamed with other agencies and the private sector to develop better methods of detecting lead paint in homes. Learn more in EPA's Science Notebook.
EPA uses state-of-the-art scientific techniques to research the causes, effects and methods to prevent lead poisoning, a major environmental health problem in the United States. For Scientific and Technical products, please visit EPA’s Science Inventory. Type “Lead” in the Search Box.
On this page you will find lead-related science information on:
- Lead research priorities
- Lead and drinking water
- Lead and human health
- Lead and healthy communities: paint, dust, and soil
- Lead in air
- Lead exposure data
Lead Research Priorities
Building on past achievements, EPA continues to conduct lead-related research to protect human health and the environment. EPA research is focused on the following priority areas:
- Lead and drinking water,
- Health and ecological effects caused by lead exposure,
- Remediation to remove lead contamination from our soils, and
- Lead and air emissions.
Lead and Drinking Water
Lead is rarely found in surface and groundwater, but enters drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, such as lead pipes, fixtures and solder. Even legally "lead-free" plumbing may contain up to eight percent lead. Brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures can leak significant amounts of lead into the water.
Drinking Water Distribution System Corrosion Research
Lead has been used to produce service lines and solder (both banned since 1988), and a variety of brass pipes and plumbing devices. Drinking water contains a large number of chemicals, including disinfection byproducts, corrosive agents, dissolved organic matter, trace metals, minerals, and additives (such as fluoride).
As a result, drinking water science is a complicated interplay among the chemical constituents as well as the physical conditions. Read more about EPA's research on lead corrosion.
Phytoremediation is the use of plants to partially or substantially remove selected contaminants, including lead, in contaminated soil, sludge, sediment, groundwater, surface water, and wastewater. It uses a variety of plant biological processes and the physical characteristics of plants to aid in site clean-up. Read more about phytoremediation of contaminated soil and ground water at hazardous waste sites (PDF). (36 pp, 163K, About PDF)
Monitored Natural Attenuation (MNA) - Lead
After chlorinated solvents are spilled or leak into soil or groundwater, natural processes may occur that destroy or alter the chemicals. EPA scientists have led the way in developing the agency's approach for applying and assessing monitored natural attenuation (MNA) as a cleanup tool for contaminants in groundwater. Surface waters and groundwaters can become contaminated with lead through sources like the fall-out of atmospheric dust, industrial and municipal wastewater runoff, mineral fertilizers and pesticides, lead-based paints, and wastes from the mining, metals, chemical, and petrochemical industries. Read more about MNA.
Lead and Human Health
Lead is toxic and has no known function in the human body. Lead may cause a range of health effects from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk.
Lead: Human exposure and health risk assessments for selected case studies
Volume 1: Human exposure and health risk assessments - full-scale
This volume describes the quantitative human exposure and health risk assessments being conducted to inform the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) current review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for lead (Pb). Please visit EPA’s Health and Environmental Research on line (HERO) to learn about the science behind EPA's regulatory process. Through HERO, the public can participate in the decision-making process.
Lead Exposure Studies: Recycled Tire Material
Crumb rubber — also called "tire crumb" or "ground rubber" — is recovered from scrap tires or from the tire retreading process. It is used in road construction and in a number of athletic and recreational applications, including ground cover under playground equipment, running track material, and as a soil additive on sports and playing fields.
High levels of lead have been detected on some artificial turf fields in New Jersey. In response to these concerns, EPA developed an agency workgroup that initiated a limited-scale scoping study to test a study protocol and monitoring methods for generating environmental data associated with the use of recycled tire material on artificial turf fields and playgrounds. As part of this evaluation, data were collected at a limited number of sites.
The full study protocol was implemented at two synthetic turf fields and one playground. Additional samples were collected at four other synthetic turf fields and a second playground. Sampling sites were located in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Maryland. The average extractable lead concentrations for turf field wipe samples were low. Although there are no directly comparable standards, average concentrations were well below the EPA standard for lead in residential floor dust (40 micrograms per square foot). Read more about EPA's study on crumb rubber.
Lead and Healthy Communities: Paint, Dust, and Soil
The greatest exposure to lead is swallowing or breathing in lead paint chips, dust and soil. Many houses and apartments built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly.
Lead and Superfund: Reclamation of Lead from Superfund Waste Material
EPA identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. These sites are then placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and are targeted for long-term federal clean-up activities. Lead has been found in at least 1,272 of the 1,684 current or former NPL sites. Read more about addressing lead at Superfund sites.
Lead and Air
Lead was first listed in the mid-1970's as a criteria air pollutant requiring regulation under the Clean Air Act as a National Ambient Air Quality Standard. Air emissions of lead from the transportation sector have greatly declined over the past two decades. Today, sources of lead emissions to the air are ore and metals processing and leaded aviation gasoline. The highest air concentrations of lead are usually found near lead smelters. Other stationary sources are waste incinerators, utilities, and lead-acid battery manufacturers.
Integrated Science Assessment for Lead
EPA has announced that the Second External Review Draft of the Integrated Science Assessment (ISA) for Lead (Pb) has been made available for independent peer review and public review. This draft ISA represents a concise synthesis and evaluation of the most policy-relevant science and will ultimately provide the scientific bases for EPA’s decision regarding whether the current standards for Pb sufficiently protect public health and the environment. Lead Assessment’s Issue and EPA Action.
In 2007, EPA conducted a study in which air emissions and residual ash measurements were taken from open, uncontrolled combustion of electronic waste (e-waste) during simulations of practices associated with basic e-waste recycling operations. Circuit boards and insulated wires were separately burned to simulate processes associated with waste disposal and metal recovery. As a result, fly ash samples from both types of e-waste contained considerable amounts of several metallic elements and halogens; lead concentrations were over 200 times the U.S. regulatory limits for municipal waste combustors. Leaching tests of the residual bottom ash showed that both lead and cadmium concentrations solution exceeded U.S. EPA landfill limits. Read more about this e-waste study.
Lead Exposure Data
See CDC State Surveillance Data to get local information on the:
- number of children with lead levels greater than 10 ug/dL
- percentage of children tested for lead
- number of children tested for lead