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Energy and Environment Cabinet

Picture Taken by Candy Montgomery

Division for Air Quality

Lead is a particulate pollutant that is toxic to humans. Although eating and drinking are the principal ways that lead enters the body, it can also be inhaled. Unfortunately, lead is not easily removed from the body, and it can accumulate in the bones and in the tissue of various organs. Pregnant women are especially sensitive to lead pollution, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and deaths of the newborn.

Lead can impair the formation of red blood cells, leading to anemia, irreversible brain damage and death. Blood levels of 80 to 100 micrograms lead per deciliter may result in central nervous system defects. Children are especially vulnerable to lead's effects. This is because children have a greater lead intake on a per unit-body-weight basis, have a greater net respiratory intake, greater absorption and retention in the digestive system, are growing rapidly (which reduces the margin of safety against stress), have undeveloped defense mechanisms and have different partitioning of lead in the bones. Animal studies have shown that lead has an adverse effect on cell division, embryos, and cell growth and character. Lead does not seem to have an adverse effect on materials.

While still listed as one of the six criteria pollutants, lead in the ambient air has taken a back seat to the other pollutants because very few areas of the nation have lead problems in their air.

A success story

Lead is a prime example of what can happen when control programs are implemented in response to air quality concerns. Since the 1970s when the U.S. EPA mandated the phase out of lead in gasoline, these problems have been greatly reduced.

Nationwide, ambient levels of lead in air have been so low, for so many years, that air agencies have been able to reduce air monitoring for lead and in some cases eliminate it altogether. In Kentucky, lead is monitored at only one site.

Lead Paint BucketWhat is still a concern are levels of lead inside older homes, schools and buildings. Lead was a component of paint until the recent past. Many older buildings still have layers of this paint inside them. If they remain undisturbed, this paint should cause no large-scale problems. If, during renovation, these layers of paint are sanded, there is an increased risk of being exposed to inhalable particles of lead.  Also of concern is the chipping of this older paint and children eating those paint chips.

Lead paint abatement is regulated by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Labor Cabinet.  For more information call 502-564-4537.