by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Surprisingly, lead is still found in many consumer products today.
While lead was banned from house paint in the U.S. in 1978, it is still found in the paint of older homes, hand-me-down products, and products made in foreign countries. (1)(2)
In addition, lead may be found in products that fall into an exempt or exclusion category set forth by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. For example, some electronic components have a higher lead content, but are exempt from being tested and included in the total lead content of the electronic device. (3)
8 Common Sources of Lead Exposure
We are exposed to lead on a regular basis through the use of lead paints, soil, and products found in our homes. (4) Below are eight household items that are common sources of lead exposure.
- Plastics. Lead is used in plastics to make it soft and flexible. According to the Center for Disease Control, the use of lead in plastics has not been banned. (5)
- Cosmetics. Since lead is naturally in the outdoor environment, it becomes part of the cosmetic product as an impurity and cannot be avoided when producing cosmetics. (6)
- Paint on Toys and Homes. A short 9 years ago (in 2007), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 967,000 toys made by Fisher Price due to a lead poisoning hazard. (7) There is a very real possibility that those toys are still in circulation today. In addition, paint used on homes and toys prior to 1978 can chip and become a lead hazard to children and adults.
- Toy Jewelry. Second-hand toy jewelry sometimes contains lead in its paint or in the material that makes the jewelry.
- Ceramics. Ceramic glaze used in pottery, dish ware, and its decorations can contain amounts of lead that exceed the lead safety standards set forth by government agencies. Pay attention to ceramics made for the purpose of serving food and beverages. Ceramic dishes or pottery bowls with lead glaze or dye can leach into foods and enter the human body.
- Batteries in Products. Batteries that are installed in products, such as electronics, are exempt from being included in the total lead limit for electronic devices. (8)
- Glass. Wines and other beverages that are stored or served in lead crystal glassware have been found to have higher concentrations of lead in the beverage. (9)
- Household Dust. Household dust is created from daily activities occurring in the home. Any products that rub or bump together create household dust. Tiny paint chips from opening windows or playing with toys become part of household dust that circulates throughout the home and can contain lead. Similarly, stray particles of cosmetics or dead skin cells that have cosmetics containing lead can contribute to household dust.
How Does Lead Exposure Affect Health?
Symptoms of lead exposure may occur slowly, making it difficult to diagnose accurately. (10) According to the Center for Disease Control, high levels of lead exposure may cause abdominal pain, weakness, kidney damage, brain damage, constipation, loss of appetite, memory loss, pain or tingling in hands and/or feet, depression, forgetfulness, irritability, nausea, and cancer. Over time, lead exposure may cause high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. (11)
For the developing brain, there is no safe level of lead exposure. Low-levels of lead can reach unborn children and damage the baby’s developing nervous system, and affect behavior and intelligence. (12)
Protect Your Family from Lead Exposure
The seven tips below can help you reduce you and your family's lead exposures from household products.
- Safely dispose of items containing lead. Contributing to mindful disposal practices will help reduce lead in our environment. Dispose of products that are highly suspected or confirmed of containing lead, which is a hazardous waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Check with your local municipality for hazardous waste disposal sites and procedures for properly disposing of household products that contain lead.
- Avoid ceramics with lead glaze or dyes. When making or purchasing ceramic products, make sure the glazes and dyes are lead-free.
- Avoid using decorative ceramic dishes for food. Err on the side of caution and avoid using decorative ceramic dishes for serving food if you’re unsure of the lead content. Or you could avoid buying the ceramic product altogether if you’re unsure of the lead content.
- Reduce use of cosmetics. Wear cosmetics minimally in order to avoid inevitable contact with the lead that is a natural impurity in cosmetics.
- Lead-Free Crystal. Opt for lead-free crystal drinking glasses and beverage storage (and serving) containers.
- Purge old items that are likely to contain lead. Toys and jewelry that have passed down for years may contain lead paint or lead in the material itself. Safely dispose of items that are likely to contain lead levels that are unsafe for children and adults.
- Avoid plastics. Consider avoiding products made of plastic. Instead, opt for solid hardwood products, painted with lead-free nontoxic paint, or lead-free ceramic or glass.
While its toxic health effects are well-known and it was banned from paints in the late 1970s and gasoline in 1990, lead is still present in many consumer products today. However, through informed, precautionary steps (like those listed above), you can reduce lead in your home and in our environment.
(1) A to Z Part 2
(2)(5) Center for Disease Control - Toys
(3)(8) Consumer Protection Agency – Total Lead Content
(4) Environmental Protection Agency - Lead
(6) Food and Drug Administration
(7) Consumer Protection Agency – Lead Product Recall
(9) National Library of Medicine
(10)(11)(12) Center for Disease Control – Lead and Health