International Lead & Zinc Study Group

Lead, Zinc and the Environment

Metals are naturally occurring substances present in trace amounts in food, water, soil and air. People have always been exposed to them, but exposure can be increased due to industrial activity and/or use of metals in certain consumer products. Concerns over subtle health effects associated with low-level lead exposure in the general population have stimulated successful lead exposure reduction efforts in many countries. General population exposures in these countries are now largely below national “levels of concern”.

Historically, high-level occupational exposure to metals caused adverse clinical health effects. As a result, modern exposure standards have been devised to protect the health of workers. Currently, high level exposures and adverse clinical effects in the general population are largely associated with past product applications (e.g. lead based paint), traditional practices (such as folk remedies) or illicit applications such as lead in toys or costume jewellery that may be swallowed by children. The phase-out of these applications, combined with abatement of environmental exposure sources and increased enforcement of existing regulations, have made lead poisoning rare.

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