Sources of Lead
Lead can be found in many products and locations. The most common cause of lead poisoning is dust and chips from old paint. However, some non-paint sources, though less common, can cause severe cases of lead poisoning and have been found to be the cause of lead poisoning in children in Connecticut.
For more information, click on a topic below.
Lead was used in paint to add color, improve the ability of the paint to hide the surface it covers, and to make it last longer. In 1978 the federal government banned lead paint for use in homes. Homes built before 1978 probably contain lead-based paint. The older the home the more likely it has lead paint in it. Painted toys and furniture made before 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. Lead-based paint becomes a concern when it chips, flakes, turns into dust, or gets into the soil.
Lead dust is the most common way that people are exposed to lead. Inside the home, most lead dust comes from chipping and flaking paint or when paint is scraped, sanded, or disturbed during painting and home remodeling. Chipping and peeling paint is found mostly on surfaces, such as doors and windows that rub or impact another surface. Young children usually get exposed to lead when they put something with lead dust on it into their mouths. Lead dust may not be visible to the naked eye.
The amount of lead in gasoline was reduced 1973, but it was not banned completely until 1996. The lead from car exhausts from decades ago is now mixed with soil near roads and is still there today. Homes near busy streets may have higher levels of lead in the soil. Today, lead still comes from metal smelting, battery manufacturing, and other factories that use lead. This lead gets into the air and then mixes with the soil near homes, especially if the home is near one of these sources. Flaking lead-based paint on the outside of buildings can also mix with the soil close to buildings. Lead-based paint mixing with soil is a problem during home remodeling if workers are not careful.
Lead seldom occurs naturally in water supplies like rivers and lakes. Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion, or wearing away, of materials containing lead in the water distribution system and household or building plumbing. These materials include lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, brass and chrome plated brass faucets, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect houses and buildings to water mains. In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%. Older construction may still have plumbing that has the potential to contribute lead to drinking water.
Lead can be present in outdoor and indoor air. Lead in outdoor air comes mainly from industrial sources (e.g., smelters, waste incinerators, utilities, and lead-acid battery manufacturers). Wind-blown soil and road dust also may contain naturally occurring lead as well as lead from industrial sources, deteriorated paint, and the combustion of leaded gasoline and aviation fuel. Sources of lead in indoor air include outdoor air, suspended dust, and some hobbies (e.g., making stained glass objects using lead solder, shooting using lead bullets at indoor firing ranges).
Some folk medicines contain lead. They often are imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico. Two examples are Greta and Azarcon. Azarcon is a bright orange powder also known as Maria Luisa, Rueda, Alarcon, and Coral. Greta is a yellow powder. They are used to treat an upset stomach. Pay-loo-ah also contains lead. It is a red powder used to treat a rash or a fever. Other folk medicines that contain lead include Bala (or Bala Goli), Golf, Ghasard, and Kandu. Some cosmetics such as Kohl (Alkohl) and Surma also contain lead.
Ayurveda is a traditional form of medicine practiced in India and other eastern Asian countries. Ayurvedic medications may contain herbs, minerals, metals, or animal products. These medicines may come in both standardized and non-standardized formulations. Ayurvedic medications are typically imported into the United States by both practitioners and followers of Ayurvedic medicine.
Lead has been found in inexpensive children's jewelry sold in vending machines and large volume discount stores across the country. It also has been found in inexpensive metal amulets worn for good luck or protection. Some costume jewelry designed for adults has also been found to contain lead. It is important to make sure that children don't handle or mouth any jewelry.
People exposed to lead at work may bring lead home on their clothes, shoes, hair, or skin. Some jobs that expose people to lead include: house painting, home renovation, plumbing, welding and cutting, electronics, lead compound manufacturing, battery manufacturing and recycling, lead smelting, working in brass or bronze foundries, demolition, and working with scrap metal.
Some hobbies also use lead. These hobbies include making pottery, stained glass, or refinishing furniture. Hunters who make their own bullets or anglers who make their own fishing sinkers can be exposed to lead fumes if they don't follow good practices. Fishing tackle (especially sinkers and jig heads) often contains lead. It is important to keep all lead objects away from children. Wash hands with soap and water after holding or using lead sinkers and jig heads or reloading lead bullets or shot. Never bite down on lead sinkers.
Lead may get into foods or liquids that have been stored in ceramics, pottery, china, or crystal with lead in it. Lead-glazed dishes usually come from other countries.
Lead can be found in candy, wrappers, pottery containers, and in certain ethnic foods, such as chapulines (dried grasshoppers).
In 1995 the United States banned the use of lead solder on cans. But lead solder can still be found on cans made in other countries. These cans usually have wide seams, and the silver-gray solder along the seams contains the lead. Cans of food imported into the United States and sold may have lead solder. Over time the lead gets into the food. Foods that are acidic cause lead to get into the food faster.
People can also be exposed to lead by eating game meat harvested with lead shot and lead bullets. Research indicates that small lead fragments are often present in venison from deer harvested with lead bullets. Some bullets shatter into small pieces that can be too small to detect by sight, feel, or when chewing the meat. Also, when a bullet spirals through the barrel of a gun it creates lead fumes and tiny lead particles. Indoor firing ranges can have high levels of lead in the air if they are not properly ventilated and cleaned. The particles of lead in indoor shooting ranges can get into your body when you breathe or swallow. Lead dust can also get on your food, cigarettes, or other items that you eat, drink, or put in your mouth.
Some non-glossy, vinyl mini-blinds from foreign countries contain lead.
Batteries, radiators for cars and trucks, and some colors of ink also contain lead.