Lead Facts


Excerpts from the ATSDR Toxicological Profiles

  1. "Most lead used by industry comes from mined ores ("primary") or from recycled scrap metal or batteries ("secondary")."
  2. "In 1979, cars released 94.6 million kilograms (kg; 1 kg equals 2.2 pounds) of lead into the air in the United States. In 1989, when the use of lead was limited but not banned, cars released only 2.2 million kg to the air."
  3. ". . . lead was banned for use in gasoline for transportation beginning January 1, 1996."
  4. "The potential for exposure to lead in canned food from lead-soldered containers is greatly reduced because the content of lead in canned foods has decreased 87% from 1980 to 1988. Lead may also be released from soldered joints in kettles used to boil water for beverages."
  5. "The amount of lead added to paints and ceramic products, caulking, gasoline, and solder has also been reduced in recent years because of lead's harmful effects on humans and animals. Lead used in ammunition, which is the largest non-battery end-use, has remained fairly constant in recent years. Lead is also used in a large variety of medical equipment (radiation shields for protection against X-rays, electronic ceramic parts of ultrasound machines, intravenous pumps, fetal monitors, and surgical equipment). Lead is also used in scientific equipment (circuit boards for computers and other electronic circuitry), and military equipment (jet turbine engine blades, military tracking systems)."
  6. "The domestic use pattern for lead in 1990 was as follows: lead-acid storage batteries, used for motor vehicles, motive power, and emergency back-up power, accounted for 80% of total lead consumption; ammunition, bearing metals, brass and bronze, cable covering, extruded products, sheet lead, and solder represented 12.4%; the remaining 7.6% was used for ceramics, type metal, ballast or weights, tubes or containers, oxides, and gasoline additives (USDOC 1992)."


Folk Remedies that Contain Lead

"Ingesting certain home remedy medicines may expose people to lead or lead compounds. Examples include azarcon and greta, Mexican folk remedies used to treat the colic-like illness empacho. Azarcon and greta are also known as liga, Maria Luisa, alarcon, coral, and rueda. Lead-containing remedies used by some Asian communities are chuifong tokuwan, ghasard, bali goli, and kandu. Middle Eastern remedies and cosmetics include alkohl, saoott, and cebagin." [ATSDR Case Studies: Lead Toxicity]


Important Lead Exposures in the Past

Lead in Paint

"Before 1955, much white house paint contained up to 50% lead. . . . The amount of lead allowable in paint was lowered by federal law to 1% in 1971 and then to 0.06% in 1977."

ATSDR Case Studies: Lead Toxicity

Lead in Gasoline

"Organic (tetraethyl and tetramethyl) lead which was added to gasoline up until the late 1970s is not commonly encountered."


Lead in Printing Industry

"The printing industry was long associated with risk for lead poisoning, but it is today a less significant source because of the prevalence of computerized and other 'cold type' printing techniques."

Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Lead, Alf Fischbein in Rom, p. 976.

Lead in Rubber Products
". . . formerly used in compounding rubber, & some of the severest cases of lead poisoning reported in the literature occurred in compounders & mixers of rubber when lead was the accelerator."
In HSDB with original reference from Industrial Toxicology, 3rd ed., Hamilton A, Hardy, HL. (Acton, Mass. Publishing Sciences Group, Inc., 1974) p.90


Lead in Glass and Ceramics 

Q. Does glass or crystal ware contain lead?

A. Ordinary glassware does not contain lead, but lead is used to make the more expensive lead crystal. People who have lead crystal items should take the following precautions:

  1. Do not store liquids in lead crystal glasses or bottles.
  2. Do not drink from lead crystal on a daily basis, especially if you are pregnant.
  3. Do not feed an infant or child from a lead crystal baby bottle or cup.

Q. Do dishes or ceramic ware contain lead?

A. Since 1980, FDA has had limits on lead and cadmium in ceramic ware products. The limits were lowered in 1991 to reduce consumer exposure to lead in food from ceramic dishes that may have lead glazes. Most ceramic ware items sold in the United States meet current FDA limits because manufactures tightly control the way they make dishes to minimize the potential for lead to leach into food.

To avoid possible exposure to lead from ceramics and other tableware, consumers should take the following precautions:

  1. Do not store food in any dishes that may contain lead.
  2. Do not store food in antiques or collectibles
  3. Be wary of using or of storing food or beverages in highly decorated or metallic-coated tableware, particularly items made in other countries or by amateurs and hobbyists.
  4. Pregnant women should limit their use of lead-glazed mugs or cups for hot beverages, since lead is harmful to fetuses.

(To read the full statement from the National Safety Council, go to http://www2.nsc.org/issues/lead/leadindishes.htm.)


Small and Large Risks of Lead Exposure in Manufacturing Companies

Small: Electronic Soldering
"Simple lead-tin soldering operations at controlled working temperatures typically do not generate significant lead fume concentrations." [Burgess, p. 381]
Large: Poor Hygiene Practices and Certain Small Workshops
"Occupational exposure to lead is dependent not only upon the concentrations of lead in workplace air but also upon the personal hygiene and personal habits of the worker."
"The lead hazard is particularly acute in small companies/operations, often employing no more than three or four workers, engaged in radiator repair, leaded or stained glass production, laboratories, or ceramics." (ACGIH)

Lead in Plastic Cable and Wire

"Some employees in the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride-based plastics work with lead-containing stabilizers, including dibasic lead phthalate, lead chlorosilicate, and basic lead carbonates, all of which can produce dust when agitated. Lead stabilizers account for approximately 60 % of all stabilizer consumption and are used especially in plastic compounds requiring heat stability and tensile strength, as in electrical insulation. Cable and wire manufacturing and splicing of cables, are other examples in which there is risk for occupational lead exposure, although the replacement of powdered stabilizers with pellet-formed stabilizers has been beneficial in reducing this risk for cable manufacturing workers." (p, 975, Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Lead, Alf Fischbein in Rom)

Lead in Paint for Construction

"The use of red lead as a protective agent for ships, bridges, railways, and various other iron and steel structures is essential even today and of great economic significance." (p. 975, Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Lead, Alf Fischbein in Rom)

Lead in Residential Paint and Plumbing

About 90% of pre-1940 homes and 60% of pre-1978 homes contain lead-based paints. In 1977 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned "lead containing paint" prohibiting the use of such paint on products to which consumers are exposed after sale (42 FR 44199). In 1986 the Environmental Protection Agency banned the further use of lead pipes and solder in residential plumbing. (Coluccio VM. Lead-Based Paint Hazards. Wiley, John & Sons; 1997, p. 8-15)

Lead in Mineral Wool Insulation

"Mineral wool insulation manufactured before 1970 has been found to have lead particles. According to industry sources, lead slag is no longer used in the manufacture of mineral wool, although lead can be present as a trace impurity." ("Controlling Lead Exposures in the Construction Industry" Go to this OSHA site and do an "edit/find" for "mineral wool" from your browser's menu.)


Lead in the Construction Industry: High Risk Projects Targeted by OSHA in 1993

bulletHighway and railroad bridge rehabilitation
bulletCommercial and institutional remodeling
bulletResidential remodeling
bulletHighway and railroad bridge repainting
bulletReinsulation over existing mineral wool
bulletCommercial and industrial demolition
bulletPetroleum tank repainting
bulletWater tank repainting
bulletTransmission and commercial tower maintenance
bulletOutdoor industrial facility maintenance/renovation
bulletHousing lead abatement (public housing)
bulletIndoor industrial facility maintenance/renovation
bulletStained glass window removal
bulletUnderground storage tank demolition
bulletIndustrial vacuuming
bulletHousing lead abatement (private housing) *
bulletLead joint work on cast iron soil pipes *
bulletInstallation of radiation shielding *
bulletElevator cable babbitting *
bulletElectrical cable splicing *
bulletRepair/removal of water lines *
bulletInstallation of terne roofing *
*Lead exposure levels on these projects are not expected to exceed the action level of 30 ug/m3.
For more details, see "Controlling Lead Exposures in the Construction Industry" at the OSHA Technical Manual website.


Terne or terneplate: "Sheet iron or steel plated with an alloy of three or four parts of lead to one part of tin, used as a roofing material." (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Ed.)

Babbitt metal: "One of a group of soft alloys used widely for bearings. They have good bonding characteristics with the substrate metal, maintain oil films on their surfaces, and are non-seizing and anti-friction. . . . the main types are lead base, lead-silver base, tin base, cadmium base, and arsenical." (Condensed Chemical Dictionary)

Frit: ". . . finely ground inorganic minerals, mixed with fluxes and coloring agents which turn into a glass or enamel on heating." (Condensed Chemical Dictionary)


Pb: Jobs Pb: Reports

  Revised May 30, 2018

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