Key messages

  • Lead is not required for human health and can be hazardous when taken into the body.
  • The health effects of lead exposure depend on a variety of factors such as a person's age, the amount of lead they are exposed to and for how long, and if they have other health conditions.
  • Pathology services must notify the department of cases of elevated blood lead levels (>5 μg/dL) within 5 days of initial diagnosis.

Lead is a naturally occurring metal. It is used in industry and, in the past, was added to petrol and household paints.

Lead is not required for human health and can be hazardous when taken into the body by swallowing or breathing in lead or materials contaminated with lead. Once in the body, lead circulates in the blood and can be stored in the bones.

Lead and health

The health effects from exposure to lead will depend on a variety of factors such as:

  • a person's age
  • the amount of lead they are exposed to and for how long
  • if they have other health conditions.

Young children, including unborn babies, are at greatest risk of the health effects of lead exposure. Children are most often exposed to lead by swallowing items or soil containing lead or breathing in dust containing lead.

Adults are most often exposed to lead if they work in a job which involves lead-based activities.

If you suspect that you or a member of your family has been exposed to lead, visit your doctor for further advice. They may recommend that you have a blood test to measure the amount of lead in your blood.

Further information is available on the Better Health Channel.

Notification of elevated blood lead (>5 μg/dL)

The Department of Health and Human Services monitors cases of elevated blood lead levels in Victoria. The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 requires that cases with blood lead greater than five micrograms per decilitre (>5 μg/dL) are notified to the department by pathology services (laboratories) within five days of initial diagnosis.

On 1 September 2018, amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009 came into effect which removed the requirement for medical practitioners to notify the department of cases of elevated blood lead >5µg/dL. The department remains authorised to capture additional information from medical practitioners to assist investigations, prevent further cases and to inform prevention strategies, as required. Medical practitioners can still notify the department of cases of elevated blood lead >5µg/dL.

Lead and gun shooters

People using firearms, handling ammunition, casting bullets or visiting shooting ranges are at risk of inhaling or swallowing lead dust or fumes, and to a lesser extent, absorbing lead through the skin. For more information, see the Information for gun shooters fact sheet

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