Health Effects of Lead

Lead is a known toxic metal.  Exposure to even small amounts of lead can be harmful to human health, especially for babies, young children and pregnant women. Children absorb lead more easily than adults. Pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy can pass lead in their blood to their fetus during pregnancy. 

In babies, low levels of exposure to lead may affect:

  • intellectual development
  • behaviour
  • size
  • hearing

If you are exposed to lead for an extended period of time you are at a risk of developing certain adverse health effects including:

  • forgetfulness
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • changes in mood and behaviour
  • lower IQ
  • decreased hand dexterity
  • weakness of arms, legs, wrists, fingers or ankles

Read about sources of lead

Effects of being exposed to low levels of lead could include:

  • increased risk of developing kidney damage and disease
  • increase in blood pressure
  • anaemia
  • reduced sperm count and fertility
  • future risk of osteoporosis in exposed children

If you are exposed to moderate levels of lead for an extended period of time you may be at a greater risk of:

  • experiencing changes in hearing ability
  • digestive issues such as abdominal pain, cramps, nausea or vomiting
  • altered immune systems
  • changes in levels of certain hormones

If you are exposed to extremely high levels of lead, either through work or as a result of hobbies such as welding or soldering, you could develop:

  • a lack of coordination
  • convulsions
  • an inability to control your hands and feet
  • chronic kidney failure
  • a greater risk of miscarriage and stillbirth

Exposure to lead over a lifetime may increase the risk of developing cancer. 

How to test for lead exposure

Your blood lead level is the best indication of your exposure to lead.  Your doctor can do a blood test to measure your blood lead level.