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Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology


Lead exposure is a well known public health problem in adults and children in the U.S.1 Lead exposure typically occurs through inhalation or ingestion and can result in both acute and chronic health effects in multiple organ systems ranging from mild symptoms to serious, life-threatening toxicity. The main source for lead exposure for adults is occupational.2 Lead exposure in adults can also occur during popular recreational activities like target shooting. Less common sources of unique lead exposure in the home and community are numerous and include: use of lead-contaminated consumer goods, connection to older plumbing systems, home renovations, use folk remedies, retained bullets etc. The primary source of exposure to children is contact with lead-based paint. Adult lead exposure can lead to secondary child exposure through contamination of the home environment from lead residues on cloths, skin and shoes.3 Children can be poisoned at much lower levels and have more serious health effects.1

1Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR). (Internet). Public health statement for lead. Available from: Accessed June 3, 2014.

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adult blood lead epidemiology and surveillance – United States, 2008 – 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 60 (25): 841-845.

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals. – 2009. Available from: Accessed June 3, 2014.

Private well water owners should regularly test their water for lead contamination. See N.C. DPH water testing recommendations for North Carolina private well owners.

In North Carolina, children's blood lead levels are tracked and addressed through the N.C. Division of Public Health's Environmental Health Section, Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Adult blood lead levels are monitored by the Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (ABLES) program, in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch.

People who work around lead and lead-based paint must take special precautions to prevent contamination to the environment and exposure to themselves or others. Special work practices and procedures must be followed for work that occurs in child-occupied facilities and housing built before 1978. For information on demolition, lead and lead paint removal/renovations, permits, professional training and certification, and other lead hazard management activities in North Carolina, refer to the Lead Hazard Management Program (LHMP), N.C. Division of Public Health.

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