Health effects of arsenic and lead

Arsenic and lead are toxic metals and can be harmful to humans, especially children. They pollute the soil in many parts of Washington near former smelters, and old orchards where lead arsenate pesticide was used. They can also be found in products used in our daily lives.

  • Sources of lead include old paint, gasoline, and lead plumbing.
  • Arsenic can be found in pressure-treated wood and pesticides.

This page provides links to important information about health risks and how to avoid exposure to arsenic and lead.

Long-term exposure increases risk

Arsenic and lead in soil do not pose an immediate health risk. However, long-term exposure increases the risk of certain health problems. We recommend you protect yourself and your family by practicing our simple healthy actions.

How can you be exposed?

Arsenic and lead are not absorbed through the skin.

You can be exposed to arsenic and lead by swallowing or inhaling small amounts of contaminated soil. This includes activities such as:

  • Eating with dirty hands.
  • Putting dirty fingers in your mouth.

Young children are more at risk than adults. They are more sensitive because their bodies are smaller and still growing. Also, they normally put their fingers and other things in their mouth, even if they are dirty.

What determines the type of health problems that may occur?

  • The amount of contamination to which a person is exposed.
  • The length of time a person is exposed.
  • An individual's sensitivity to the harmful effects of the contamination.

Where can I test my children's blood lead levels?

​Contact your pediatrician or health care provider. For more information:

More information about exposure to:

Scientists have linked long-term exposure to arsenic to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer of the bladder, lung, skin, kidney, liver, and prostate.

In children, lead can cause behavioral problems like hyperactivity, permanent learning difficulties, and reduced physical growth. In adults, lead can increase blood pressure, affect memory, and contribute to other health problems.