Lead Advisory Service Australia
Aims to eliminate lead poisoning, protect the environment from lead
and to strengthen networks of stakeholders to solve lead problems

Lead Advisory Service News Volume 1 No 1
The journal of The Lead Advisory Service  ISSN 1440-0561

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Sources of Lead

The following are two lists of essential information for determining the source of lead in a case of lead poisoning or lead contamination, virtually from any time and place in human history. Happy hunting!

Incomplete list of the sources of lead contamination in soil, dust,  sediment, water, air, food, humans and other organisms, by use:

Paint (on):

  • 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)
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
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)
  • lead-acid batteries for generators and automotive use (comprises 64% of world use of lead, & rising)
  • 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 
  • aviation fuel for spark ignition non-jet engines

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 19th century 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
  • pigments
  • lubricants and
  • 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…

Useful web sites for more information about lead sources:

(ref no’s 529, 318, 294, 214, 3 and 554 or 555)

Lists prepared by Elizabeth O’Brien, The LEAD Group Inc, from various sources.

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Last Updated 04 June 2012
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