Sources of Lead Poisoning

Lead Hazards In and Around the House

If you live in a house or apartment building built before 1978, there is a strong chance that lead-based paint is in the structure. Exposure to lead-based paint or to household dust that contains lead can result in lead poisoning – particularly with infants and small children. Once a wall surface has been opened up as a result of a repair, renovation or damages, the ensuing debris and dust might contain lead. Also, the soil around the house or apartment building might be contaminated with lead as a result of exterior scraping and sanding, and as an accumulation of lead from automobile exhausts when lead was an additive to gasoline.

Other areas where lead exposure and poisoning can occur include a child’s day care facility particularly if it is an older home, and the school yard if playground equipment that has been painted with lead-based paint has chipped and possibly contaminated the soil.

Lead Hazards in Municipal Water Systems

As we learned from the Flint, Michigan tragedy, a city’s water supply can become contaminated with lead and can cause lead poisoning among residents. You should check with your municipal water service to learn of any lead in the water supply. For homes served by public water systems, data on lead in the water system may be available on the Internet from your local water authority. If your local water authority does not post this information, you should call and find out.

Also, lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder.

The only way to know if your tap water contains lead is to have it tested by a certified lead testing agency or laboratory. You can also reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead in drinking water by consuming bottled water or by using a filter that has been certified to reduce or eliminate lead by an independent testing organization.

Other Possible Sources of Lead Poisoning


Lead has been found in some consumer candies imported from Mexico, as well as such ingredients as chili powder and tamarind. Lead sometimes gets into food products when processes such as drying, storing and grinding are done improperly. Lead has also been found in the wrappers of some imported candies and can leach into the food product.

Folk Medicines

Lead has been found in some traditional (folk) medicines used by East Indian, Indian, Middle Eastern, West Asian, and Hispanic cultures. Lead and other heavy metals are put into certain folk medicines because these metals are thought to be helpful in treating some ailments.

Lead has been found in powders and tablets given for arthritis, infertility, upset stomach, menstrual cramps, colic and other illnesses. Greta and Azarcon (also known as alarcon, coral, luiga, maria luisa, or rueda) are traditional Hispanic medicines taken for an upset stomach (empacho), constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. They are also used on teething babies. Greta and Azarcon are both fine orange powders with lead content as high as 90%.

Ghasard, an Indian folk medicine, has also been found to contain lead. It is a brown powder used as a tonic. Ba-baw-san is a Chinese herbal remedy that contains lead. It is used to treat colic pain or to pacify young children.

Imported Products:

Toy Jewelry

Just wearing toy jewelry will not cause your child to have a high level of lead in his/her blood. However, small children often put things in their mouth. If you have a small child, never let the child have access to jewelry or other items that may contain lead and never, ever let them put such items in their mouths.

Toys and Furniture

Painted toys and furniture that have been made in other countries – particularly China – and imported into the United States may put children at risk since lead-based paint is not banned in some countries. Also, antique toys, collectibles and furniture that has been passed down through generations may be a source of lead poisoning because they were made before the use of lead in paint was banned in the United States. Of particular concern are cribs because an infant might chew on a crib surface that has been painted.

If you are concerned about toys and furniture that you have, they can be tested by a Certified Lead Inspector using an XRF machine. Although do-it-yourself testing kits are available, they do not show how much lead is present and their reliability at detecting low levels of lead has not been determined.