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QUESTION: Is a persistent sweet taste in the mouth a symptom of lead poisoning? 07 May 2004, Indiana USA

i have been told that one of the things that might be associated with lead exposure is a sweet taste in the mouth that you cant get rid of. Is this true?

ANSWER: 07 May 2004

Dear Mrs Jones,

There has been some discussion on the Global Lead Network (an e-group for 600 lead poisoning prevention professionals and advocates) on the sweetness of lead and here are all the comments, though none of them really answers your question, despite me putting your question to the e-group. If an answer comes in, I will pass it on. I knew that lead paint can taste sweet and I understand that it is specifically the lead acetate (also called "sugar of lead") which forms when lead metal is steeped in vinegar (acetic acid) in order to create the pigment for paint. As for a lingering sweet taste, I have only ever heard that lead (eg fumes from lead smelters) leaves a metallic taste in the mouth. Perhaps what some people call metallic, others call sweet. I have placed the most specific answer to your question first.


We have been involved in several projects and have found that the sweet taste of lead does stay for at least a while with workers who were working on lead bearing surfaces and producing dusts and fumes.

However, we are not aware of any studies to show how long the sweet taste lasts.

Richard A. Baker
Baker Environmental Consulting, Inc. (BEC)
7941 Westgate Street
Lenexa, Kansas 66215
VOICE: (913) 541-0220
FAX: (913) 541-0457
E-MAIL: ThePbMan(AT)aol(DOT)com (or) PbMan(AT)bakerenvironmetal(DOT)com WEBSITE:
Dedicated to the Prevention of Lead Poisoning Since 1976


AZ CLPPP was recently on an environmental investigation for a child who is a refugee from Africa. The Mom saw her daughter eating paint off of buildings in the African refugee camp and said (through an interpreter) that the paint was sweet. I have heard elsewhere that lead paint has a sweet taste and am wondering if anybody knows if that is true. And if so, a scientific reason as to why.

Jason Mihalic
Epidemiology Specialist II
Arizona Department of Health Services
Office of Environmental Health
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
(602) 364-3141


One of our public health nurses remembers specifically enjoying eating lead chips from her home and chomping on the windowsill because the lead tasted so sweet. (She was a child then, of course, and we didn't know about lead the way we do now.) She can remember the taste, even now. Maybe if lead paint tasted like liver the kids wouldn't be lead poisoned.

Jane Contello
CHN, Delaware County NY Public Health Nursing


Yes it tastes like sweet tarts, a popular candy here in the states.

Linda Kite lkite(AT)psr(DOT)org
Coordinator, Healthy Homes Collaborative
3250 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1400
L.A., CA 90010
fax: 213.386.4184
cell: 323.974.5070


Under the "artificial sweeteners" section of

Cardiff University, UK it says:

"Salts of lead and beryllium also taste sweet."

Mike Martin
Research Analyst
Arizona School Boards Association
2100 N. Central Ave, Suite 200
Phoenix, Az 85004


Lead's long history is filled with examples of lead salts' sweetness being exploited--with unhealthy consequences: in Roman times due to chefs' preferences for cooking sauces in lead pots to impart sweetness, two hundred years ago in Europe as a wine adulterant and so on.

My book "Brush with Death", p. 184, describes public health officials "experiments" and observations on the sweetness of lead. One official claimed it had a sweet taste--"kind of like a cordial candy" A doctor in D.C. reported having seen children put their sticky lollipops against a peeling painted wall, then licking the paint that adhered in a layer to their candy!


Christian Warren, Ph.D.
Academy Historian
New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
Phone: 212-822-7314
Fax: 212-42 3-0273
email: cwarren(AT)nyam(DOT)org

I hope this helps.
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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