Lead from old paint and pipes is still a harmful and deadly hazard in millions of US homes

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that causes severe health effects such as neurological damage, organ failure and death.

Widely used in products such as paint and gasoline until the late 1970s, lead continues to contaminate environments and harm the health of people around the world.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 million deaths each year are attributable to lead poisoning, with the highest exposures in developing nations. Lead continues leaching from old paint, pipes and industrial sources into soils, homes and waterways across the globe.

In more recent years, this number has risen at an incredible pace, with some research showing that nearly 5.5 million adults die from lead-related health complications.

I am a health physicist and my research focuses on ways to improve the technology used to screen for lead and other environmental toxicants. In developing and applying my technologies to see how people are affected by toxicants like lead, I have tested more than 20,000 people around the world over the past five years.

This preventable health crisis especially threatens children during periods of critical brain development but can also impair intellectual development and long-term health in adults. Understanding and addressing this persistent problem will require improved monitoring, targeted remediation and a great deal more awareness and dialogue. Read more about JPB Fellow Aaron Specht’s research.