BACKGROUND: The Impact Pathway Approach (IPA) is an innovative methodology to establish links between emissions, related impacts and monetary estimates. Only few attempts have so far been presented regarding emissions of metals; in this study the external costs of airborne lead (Pb) emissions are assessed using the IPA. Exposure to Pb is known to provoke impacts especially on children's cognition. As cognitive abilities (measured as IQ, intelligence quotient) are known to have implications for lifetime income, a pathway can be established leading from figures for Pb emissions to the implied loss in earnings, and on this basis damage costs per unit of Pb emission can be assessed. METHODS: Different types of models are here linked. It is relatively straightforward to establish the relationship between Pb emissions and consequent increase in air-Pb concentration, by means of a Gaussian plume dispersion model (OML). The exposed population can then be modelled by linking the OML-output to population data nested in geo-referenced grid cells. Less straightforward is to establish the relationship between exposure to air-Pb concentrations and the resulting blood-Pb concentration. Here an Age-Dependent Biokinetic Model (ADBM) for Pb is applied. On basis of previous research which established links between increases in blood-Pb concentrations during childhood and resulting IQ-loss we arrive at our results. RESULTS: External costs of Pb airborne emissions, even at low doses, in our site are in the range of 41-83 euro/kg emitted Pb, depending on the considered meteorological year. This estimate applies only to the initial effects of air-Pb, as our study does not address the effects due to the Pb environmental-accumulation and to the subsequent Pb re-exposure. These are likely to be between one and two orders of magnitude higher. CONCLUSIONS: Biokinetic modelling is a novel tool not previously included when applying the IPA to explore impacts of Pb emissions and related external costs; it allows for more fine-tuned, age-dependent figures for the external costs from low-dose exposure. Valuation of additional health effects and impacts e.g. due to exposure via ingestion appear to be feasible when extending the insights from the present pilot study.