Common Sources of Lead Poisoning

Lead-Based Paint

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most common sources of lead poisoning. Paint containing lead was not banned in the United States until 1978. Homes built before 1978 have a good chance of having lead-based paint, which can chip, peel or flake.

Household dust can contain lead particles released from old paint during remodeling by sanding, scraping, or tearing into painted surface. Painted areas where friction occurs such as doors, window, and drawers can also contain lead-contaminated dust.

Children can get poisoned when they ingest lead dust or chips from worn or damaged layers of lead-based paint. Children also may eat lead-based paint chips, which sometimes taste sweet.

Steps you can take:

Contaminated Soil

Children may be exposed to lead through contaminated soil when they play outside. Lead in dirt clings to fingers, toys, and other objects children normally put in their mouths. Lead can get in soil from:

Steps you can take:

Children's Toys and Jewelry

Some toys and toy jewelry contain levels of lead that may have a serious health risk to children. Parents should check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to see if their child's toys and jewelry are recalled. Although antique or salvaged items may not appear on a recall list, they may contain lead especially items that are painted or metal.

Children may put toys or jewelry in their mouth, suck or chew on them, and sometimes even swallow them. Handling items that contain lead and then putting their hands in their mouths can also expose children to lead.

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Drinking Water

Lead in drinking water is not a common source of lead poisoning, it usually comes from water distribution lines or household plumbing rather than lakes, wells or streams.

Workplace and Hobby Hazards

Parents may unknowingly bring lead home on their hands, clothing, and shoes. Jobs that expose people to lead include:

Dust and fumes from hobbies can also be a source of lead, hobbies include:

Steps you can take:

Traditional Home Remedies and Cosmetics

Some families use home remedies to treat illnesses. Some remedies may contain up to 100 percent lead and are very dangerous to children. Home remedies that may contain lead:

Certain cosmetics, especially those from the Middle East, India, and Asia, may also contain high levels of lead. Cosmetics that may contain lead are Kohl, Kajal, Surma, and Sindoor.

Steps you can take:

  • Immediately stop using home remedies or cosmetics mentioned above that contain lead.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and other body parts that may have come in contact with the powders or cosmetics. Wash affected household surfaces with soap and hot water.
  • Ask a health care provider to test children or pregnant/nursing women for lead poisoning if they have used any of the remedies or cosmetics noted above.

Lead Glazed Ceramic Ware, Pottery, and Leaded Crystal

Lead can be used to make ceramic glazes with deep and brilliant color. Imported, old, handmade, or poorly glazed ceramic dishes and pottery are especially at risk for having lead in the glaze. Lead may also be found in leaded crystal, pewter and brass dishware.

Acidic foods or drinks (such as orange, tomato and other fruit juices, tomato sauces, wines, and vinegar) may cause the lead to be drawn out of the glaze and contaminate the food or drink with lead. You can't always tell by looking at a dish whether it contains lead.

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Imported Candy

Lead has been found in certain candies imported from Mexico. Certain candy ingredients such as tamarind or chili powder may be a source of lead exposure. Lead can get into candy when processes such as drying, storing, and grinding the ingredients are done improperly.

Lead has also been found in the wrappers of some imported candies, the ink of these plastic or paper wrappers may contain lead that leaches into the candy. People selling these candies may not know whether the candy contains lead. You can't tell by looking at or tasting a candy whether it contains lead.

  • Avoid eating imported candies containing chili powder and tamarind. Examples products include lollipops coated with chili and powdery mixtures of salt, lemon flavor, and chili seasoning sold as a snack item.


Mini-blinds that are old or imported may contain lead. Sunlight and heat can cause the vinyl surface to break down and release lead dust. Lead dust can get into the air and collect near or below the blinds.

Steps you can take:

More Information

For Health Care Providers and Partners