Sources of Lead Exposure – Update 2018

This article gives a comprehensive list and explanation of possible exposures to the heavy metal, LEAD (Pb). It is designed to complement the Toxno Lead Exposure Routes. Many thanks to the hard work of the folks at the Lead Advisory Service Australia. If you know of additional exposure routes to Lead, please contact author or comment on this post. We will all benefit.

Even though this list is large, there are more sources still.


“Aircraft operating on leaded aviation gasoline (avgas) are used for many critical purposes, including business and personal travel, instructional flying, aerial surveys, agriculture, firefighting, law enforcement, medical emergencies, and express freight. Avgas is a specialized fuel used to power piston engine aircraft.

TEL is an organic compound that contains lead and, in small quantities, is very effective in boosting octane. The ban of TEL in automobile gas was phased in over a number of years and was largely completed by 1986 and resulted in significant reductions of lead emissions to the environment. TEL was has not yet been banned for use in avgas, because no operationally safe alternative is currently available.”
Fact Sheet — Leaded Aviation Fuel and the Environment

“Currently, leaded avgas is the largest source of lead air pollution in the US,causing emissions of over 500 tons of lead per year. Recent research has found that children living near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away, and studies have linked high childhood lead levels to a host of serious health problems.”
California Neighborhoods Affected by Lead from Aviation Fuel

The ABC has spoken to dozens of men and women who served in the Army, Air Force and Navy over the past five decades who believe their health, or that of their loved ones, has been detrimentally affected through working with fuel and other chemicals — damaging components of the fuel can be carried around the body to affect organs, rather than just the areas directly exposed to the fuel.
RAAF jet fuel: Defence personnel call for inquiry after reporting wide range of serious illnesses

Tank water

Tank water is likely to be contaminated with lead if you have lead flashing on the roof catchment area, PVC downpipes or if you live near a busy road or major arterial route. In fact 25% of rain water tanks in Victoria were found to contain lead levels above the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (Cunliffe, 1998). There are tonnes of lead dust lying around highways and roads around Australia arising from vehicle exhausts from leaded petrol before it was phased out in 2002. Lead DOES NOT break down over time, so it will still be toxic.

from Lead in our homes


In built up urban areas — especially near busy road — see Catalyst episode in link below featuring Prof Mark Taylor

Leaded petrol was phased out in 2002, but the problem of residual contamination in soils remains, particularly in the older areas of cities.

Lead as a toxin — still a BIG problem in Australian in 2015 — especially for children

Shooting Ranges

See our extensive coverage here on lead exposure from shooting ranges

Bullets at shooting range © Toxno

Bullets at shooting range © Toxno

Roofing Materials

Lead Flashing is STILL being made for roofs. And some plumbers are still using it.

Lead Mining & Lead Mining Towns

In Australia, lead smelting is carried out in Mt Isa and Nyrstar in Port Pirie both of which have a historical issue with high blood lead levels in the town’s children (Latimar, 2012). Source by Nicole Bijlsma
This is big. More coming here soon.

Exposure Routes from Toxno

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Exposure Routes from Toxno

Lead compounds in paint include:

  • white lead (lead carbonate) as the prime white pigment
  • red lead (60% lead in dry film)
  • orange lead
  • (yellow) lead chromate pigment (56% lead)
  • scarlet chrome pigment (lead chromate + lead molybdate)
  • metallic lead pigment
  • litharge paint drier
  • lead compounds in mirror backing paints
  • lead compounds as anti- corrosive pigments:
  • universal pink primer (red lead + white lead)
  • lead compounds as coloured pigments:
  • lemon chrome pigment (lead chromate + lead sulphate)
  • orange chrome pigment
  • lead compounds as driers:
  • lead naphthenate paint drier
  • vitreous enamel used to coat baths

Paint used on these items

  • steel structures eg bridges, tanks
  • boats and wharves
  • farm and other machinery
  • pre-1970 furniture
  • playground equipment
  • roads (road-marking paints)
  • paintings (artists paints)
  • painted china
  • buttons (occasionally on children’s clothes and toys)
  • surfaces inside and outside pre 1970 homes
  • vehicles
  • aircraft and spacecraft
  • white-goods
  • pre-1970 toys
  • pre-1960 pencils
  • signs (sign-writers paints)

Transport / fuel applications

  • tetra alkyl lead octane enhancer for automotive and motor-mower fuels
  • valve lubricant for pre-1986 automotive valves
  • sump-oil contaminated saw dust
  • wheel balancing lead weights
  • radiator solder
  • PVC in vehicle interiors eg mats
  • PVC oil and air filters
  • auto body solder for panel beating (burning and grinding)
  • cable sheathing on marine vessel cables
  • lead weights for boats and ships ballast
  • lead keels for boats
  • lead contaminated sump oil (re-used as a fuel for cement kilns etc, and for chain saw lubrication)
  • train brake pads
  • terne plated metal (lead plated metal) used for fuel tank lining
  • PVC flexible bumper strip
  • PVC body side moulding and mudflaps, etc
  • lead pendulum weights for seat belts

Lead Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries for generators and automotive use (comprises 64% of world use of lead, & rising)
“Despite having a very low energy-to-weight ratio and a low energy-to-volume ratio, its ability to supply high surge currents means that the cells have a relatively large power-to-weight ratio. These features, along with their low cost, makes it attractive for use in motor vehicles to provide the high current required by automobile starter motors.

As they are inexpensive compared to newer technologies, lead–acid batteries are widely used even when surge current is not important and other designs could provide higher energy densities. Large-format lead–acid designs are widely used for storage in backup power supplies in cell phone towers, high-availability settings like hospitals, and stand-alone power systems.

While lead recycling is a well-established industry, more than 40,000 metric tons (39,000 long tons; 44,000 short tons) ends up in landfills every year.” Reference

Death and destruction applications

  • lead shot and bullets for hunting
  • leadlines for trout fishing
  • lead coffins
  • lead arsenate (previously used as an agricultural pesticide especially on apples and tobacco)
  • lead-contaminated used motor oil for weed suppression
  • ammunition (the other global use of lead which is rising annually)
  • lead was used as an abortifacient and skinwhitener (caused by anaemia) by 19thcentury prostitutes
  • fishing sinkers and jigs
  • radiation shielding in nuclear war-ships and installations
  • other funerary items eg fences for graves
  • explosives eg cordite

Plastics and chemicals

Lead in drinking water via plastic (PVC) piping is a REAL concern in Australia and Overseas. The Water Research Australia has issued a report available here entitled REVIEW OF HARVEY ET AL (2015)
This report details issues that arose to the drinking water in Tasmania in 2015 after unusually high Lead levels were detected. After initial denial by TasWater and much media coverage in April 2015, the facts slowly started to emerge. The paper that the review is based on concluded that the lead contamination of the drinking water in the town of Pioneer (in Tasmania, Australia) could be attributed to three sources.

The water race infrastructure including the large leaded joint pipelines of the Frome Dam, the Moorina Power Station and the Pioneer holding dams;
The PVC pipes that connect the Pioneer holding dams to the residential service lines; and
Lead contaminated fittings and fixtures within individual properties.

See more on lead in drinking water from plastic pipes below
PVC pipes: bringing toxic lead to drinking water
Lead in Drinking Water
Lead in our homes (Tap water is likely to contain lead if the brass taps are new — may contain 4.5% lead – or as a result of corrosion of old lead pipes, or galvanised pipes with lead solder — used up until mid 1980s).
Australian plastic pipe — the sustainable product of choice for Australia’s future water needs

Note that Tin and and Tin Organic compounds (organotins) are now also used to replace lead as stabilisers in PVC pipes and these have their own share is of health issues. See Data Sheet here. Cadmium is also an issue.

Lead Contamination due to PVC pipes is one of the major contributing factors of groundwater pollution in India

Sources of lead contamination of potable water supplies & groundwater

  • PVC pipes used in sanitation, plumbing & agriculture
  • Manufacturing of PVC pipes & products
  • Manufacturing of PVC fittings and attachments
  • Recycled plastic PVC
  • Lead solder used on metal pipe such as copper (this occurred up until 1989 in Australia).
  • Lead pipe which was used prior to 1930 and may still be present in some Lead pipe which was used prior to 1930 and may still be present in some of the mains distribution pipes in the older suburbs of many capital cities.

Other Sources of Lead from Plastics

  • pigments
  • lubricants
  • PVC piping and trunking eg components for hydroponics
  • PVC mini-blinds
  • PVC coated wire for fences, coat hangers, clothes horses
  • PVC footwear
  • PVC mouldings
  • PVC window profiles
  • PVC vinyl coated fabrics eg seating, clothing, awnings, signs
  • PVC unsupported film and sheet eg stationery (folders), packaging, hospital bed sheeting, clothing, belting
  • old dry cleaning fluids
  • compounds in old match-heads
  • lead oxide in glassmaking
  • tile and other glazing compounds
  • lead compounds in plastic resins, as
  • catalysts
  • heat stabilisers, eg in PVC which is used for:
  • PVC coated electrical cable eg Christmas light wires etc
  • PVC cladding
  • PVC solar tubing for heating swimming pools
  • PVC flexible extrusion eg wall plugs, curtain rods, insulation, furniture trim
  • PVC building profiles
  • PVC guttering
  • PVC hose incl food and beverage hose
  • PVC flooring
  • compounds for cloud-making
  • lead compounds in rubber manufacture
  • lead pigmented coloured glass

Inks and dyes used in:

  • fabrics
  • old printing
  • leather tanning compounds
  • packaging
  • cheap colour news print

Other building materials

  • sheet lead flashings and bathroom or shower floors
  • lead head roof nails and lead washers for galvanised screws used on roofing iron (which often migrate to water-tank sludge)
  • old gas and water pipes
  • lead in bronze or brass alloys for plumbing valves or fixtures
  • red lead as a sealant on the back of old linoleum
  • wrought iron
  • old glazing putty, white lead and linseed oil based putty
  • radiation shielding eg hospital X-ray rooms, radon liners or electricity shields in houses
  • dampcourses
  • roofing cover
  • lead solder for plumbing
  • cable sheathing for telephone and power cables
  • sound insulation
  • lead-light
  • caulking
  • earthquake dampening materials
  • re-use painted pre-1970 timbers and chipboard made from them
  • fountain fittings
  • bronze and brass plaques etc
  • pipe fitting and collapsible tubing

Food / drink preparation / containers

  • lead crystal
  • polyethylene food-wrapping film
  • leaded decals (transfers) on drinking glasses
  • Turkish raisins
  • calcium supplements made with lead contaminated bone meal
  • World War II vintage Indian curry powder coloured with lead pigment
  • lead shot weighted beverage hygrometers
  • soldered canned food seams — mostly ham and other non-cylindrical cans (excluding baby food cans)
  • lead light on kitchen cupboards
  • old cutlery
  • water header tanks in the ceiling space
  • weighted crayfish traps and fishing nets
  • old moonshine made in stills made from car radiators, lead pipes, etc
  • lead glazed pottery & ceramics
  • pewter mugs or plates
  • lead foil tops covering the corks of wine bottles
  • Fijian lollies
  • flour milled in Egyptian flour mills with lead solder in contact with millstones
  • some Hungarian paprika
  • polishing agent for lustre finish marble chopping boards
  • hot beverage machine parts eg cappuccino machines
  • lead weights in non-tip children’s cups
  • old crockery
  • old lead-lined pots and pans
  • water tank lining on some tanks
  • eggs from poultry housed on contaminated soil
  • lead weights for milking teats in milking machines
  • wine sweetener and bread whitener in Roman times

Other consumer products

  • toy soldiers and other models
  • surma or kohl eye / lip pencil
  • sweetener in old medicines
  • traditional remedies such as alarcon, azarkon, alkohl, bala goli, coral, ghasard, greta, kandu, luiga, maria luisa, pay-loo-ah, rueda, surma
  • lead or pewter jewelry
  • galena specimens for tourists
  • lamp stands and ashtrays
  • old metal toothpaste tubes
  • the fish-eye contacts on light bulbs
  • curtain weights
  • weights to make “sleep eyes” close when antique dolls are laid down
  • wooden and lead component in French game
  • hair colour restorer treatments
  • ayurvedic medicines
  • homeopathic treatment for lead poisoning
  • some imported crayons and chalk
  • t-shirt transfers
  • mineral specimen art mosaics
  • metal-work / glasswork crafts
  • leaded glass for radiation shielding such as in TV tubes, TV and VDU screens
  • electronic lead solder in appliances and computers
  • door stops
  • candles with a leaded metal core wick
  • emblem on Michael Jordan Nike joggers
  • balance for whip handles

Other uses

  • crimped and stamped lead security seals such as on gas meters
  • diving weights
  • leaded optical glass & electrical glass
  • anti-corrosive liner for storage drums
  • paper weights
  • pipe organ pipes
  • pool cue chalk
  • weights for go karts
  • sheet lead for radiation shielding eg lead vests for dentists, radiologists
  • smelters pots (re-used as plant pots or incinerators)
  • weights in wool presses

Incomplete list of other sources of lead contamination in soil, dust, sediment, water, air, food and organisms, apart from the obvious sources arising during the manufacture, use, repair, recycling, incineration and disposal of the above uses of lead:

  • bone lead stores (which comprise 95% of adult body burden) in human (and animal) bone slowly re-supply lead to the blood and soft tissues but the rate is speeded up by: chelation (by EDTA, BAL, DMSA, DMPS, Vit C, Kombucha tea, etc), bone demineralisation (which occurs in old age, pregnancy and breastfeeding), bone breaks, cortisone treatment, drastic changes in activity levels eg being bedridden.
  • human (and animal) cremation
  • erosion of lead ore bodies
  • waste and emissions from ferrous and non-ferrous foundries
  • ash and emissions from wood-burning
  • emissions from metallurgical works and metal heat treating works
  • food grown on land contaminated by lead fall-out (industry or traffic) or by lead contaminated super-phosphate (esp whole grain foods), trace metal fertilisers or sewage sludge
  • roasted lead pellets (plus duck or rabbit)
  • volcanic eruptions
  • waste and emissions from lead and silver and zinc mines and smelters
  • ash and emissions from burning painted wood
  • ash and emissions from coal-burning
  • fresh fruit and vegetables (natural lead levels can be especially high in spinach and silver-beet)
  • accidental ingestion of lead shot (this kills 6 times more birds than the duck-hunters actually shoot)
  • dust escape from demolition of shot towers, buildings, bridges, plants…





By |2018-04-23T20:34:33+00:00April 23rd, 2018|Heavy Metals|0 Comments

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