There are many sources of lead in the environment, including lead from historic leaded gasoline and lead paint, electricity generation, mining, manufacturing, and recycling of lead. There is also lead in various industrial processes and consumer products such as car batteries in hundreds of millions of vehicles nationally, lead in jewelry and toys, lead in ammunition and fishing gear, and many others, not to mention naturally occurring lead in soil and water.
About 10 billion pounds of lead is mined annually for use in a wide array of applications. The presence of lead in soil, sediment, or water is not sufficient to conclude that the source of lead is telecom cables. According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), most human exposure to lead occurs through inhalation and ingestion.
Learn more about how lead is regulated, where it exists in the environment, and its most likely sources for exposure:
Lead is naturally present in soil. Background lead concentrations can vary widely from place to place and can generally range from 10 parts per million (ppm) to 200 ppm. Major sources of lead in soil in populated areas is the weathering, chipping, scraping, sanding, and sand-blasting of structures bearing lead-based paint. The EPA understood in the 1990s that airborne emissions from smelters, waste incinerators, and a wide range of other industries, as well as fuels, paints and pigments, aircraft, and automobiles, contributed to the widespread presence of lead in soil.
There are some trace amounts of lead in food and beverages, including vegetables, fruits, and grains where lead in the air can settle on foods or be taken up from the soil. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) estimates that Americans consume between 2 and 9 mcg/kg of lead per day with children under two years old consuming less than 4 mcg/kg of lead per day. We have not identified any scientific literature or government reports indicating that any food in the U.S. is exceeding a standard for lead due to lead-sheathed telecom cables.