The primary source of lead exposure for children is lead paint, house dust and lead-contaminated soil. Adults may be exposed to lead in the workplace. Other sources, such as traditional home remedies and cosmetics, can contribute to a child's lead exposure.
Sources of Lead Exposure
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Toys/ Products for Children
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a searchable database on toys and other children's products (link is external) that were found to contain unsafe levels of lead.
- Guidance on testing toys and other products suspected to contain lead (link is external) and exposure from lead in toys (link is external) is provided in fact sheets from the National Center for Health Housing (link is external).
- For more information on lead in toys for children, visit the EPA website.
- Warning: Sindoor Contains Lead (link is external) - A product called "SINDOOR" is often added to food as a food coloring. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert on Dec. 17, 2007, warning consumers not to use the Swad brand sindoor product because testing conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health indicated this product contained very high levels of lead, sometimes as high as 87%.
- Toxic Treats (poster in English or in Spanish) - California and U.S. health officials have detected dangerous levels of lead in 112 distinct brands of candy – most of them made in Mexico. One in four candy and wrapper samples have tested high since 1993, records show.
- Cornell Chronicle: Christmas lights pose lead threat (link is external): A Cornell University article discussing the results of study done on Christmas light sets. [November 24, 2008]
- Facts About Lead in Porcelain and Ceramic Glazes (PDF, 215 KB): Tips from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to follow when using porcelain and ceramic glazed products.
Lead is one of the most common exposures found in industry and is a primary cause of workplace illness. If you work around products or materials that contain lead, there a chance you could be exposed. OSHA is moving toward a five-year goal of a 15% reduction in the average severity of lead exposure or employee blood lead levels in selected industries and workplaces.
Certain jobs have been known to put workers at risk of lead exposure:
- Artists/ Painters
- Construction Workers
- Auto Repairers
- Glass Manufacturers
- Lead Manufacturers/ Miners/ Refiners/ Smelters
- Plumbers/ Pipe Fitters
How Can You Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe from Lead?
- Eat/drink in areas where lead-containing products are not being handled or processed.
- Wear proper Personal Protective Equipment.
- Use effective lead removal products to clean you hands. (Washing your hands with soap and water WILL NOT be enough to remove lead residues).
- Shower and change your clothing and shoes after working around lead hazards.
- Work in well-ventilated areas.
- Talk to your employer about other lead-safe practices.
Lead in Air
Lead in the air is a problem because people can breathe it in, and also because people can end up swallowing the lead dust found in soil and water. It is particularly bad because the lead in the dust and soil does not decompose or decay.
Lead dust particles in the household result from indoor sources such as old lead paint on surfaces that are frequently in motion or bump or rub together (such as window frames), deteriorating old lead paint on any surface, home repair activities, tracking lead-contaminated soil from the outdoors into the indoor environment, or even from lead dust on clothing worn at a job site. Lead paint chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when the home is vacuumed or swept, or when people walk through.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a national database that shows you what types of lead sources make up the total amount of lead in the air.
Lead in Soil
Lead has made its way into the soil around homes through several different routes:
- Leaded gasoline
- Environmental emissions
Lead is naturally occurring, and can be found in high concentrations in some areas. In addition, soil, yards, and playgrounds can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint from houses or buildings flakes or peels and gets into the soil. Lead in soil can be ingested as a result of hand-to-mouth activity that is common for young children and from eating vegetables that may have taken up lead from soil in the garden. Lead in soil may also be inhaled if re-suspended in the air, or tracked into your house thereby spreading the contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines soil lead hazard as 400 parts per million (ppm) in play areas and a 1,200 ppm average for bare soil in the rest of the yard. If your soil has lead, or if you are not sure, please view the publication Human Health Hazards: Lead in soil from exterior lead paint (P-45015; PDF, 165 KB) to get advice for homeowners.
Lead in Water
Lead is typically not found in drinking water. However, lead can enter drinking water through corrosion of plumbing materials, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The EPA estimates that drinking water accounts for 10-20 percent of human exposure to lead.
Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder. However, new homes are also at risk: even legally "lead-free" plumbing may contain up to 8 percent lead. Beginning January 2014, changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act will further reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures to 25 percent.
The only way to find out if a home has high levels of lead in the drinking water is to test the water. If it has not been tested, there are several things that can be done to reduce ingestion of lead from drinking water:
- Do not drink, cook, or make baby formula with water from the hot water tap.
- Consider purchasing a filter certified for lead removal, or purchase bottled water.
- Replace the plumbing or service line, or lead-containing faucets.
NOTE: Boiling the water WILL NOT reduce the amount of lead.
NOTE: Bathing IS NOT A PROBLEM (lead does not enter the body through your skin).
For more information on lead contamination in water, visit http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.
"Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" in English (link is external) (PDF, 662 KB), Spanish (link is external), Vietnamese (link is external) (PDF, 936 KB), Russian (link is external) (PDF, 664 KB), Arabic (link is external) and Somali (link is external) (PDF 281 KB)