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QUESTION: Can you lead poison yourself or family with 60/40 solder for electronics hobby or by touching electrical cords? 04 Jan 2008 California USA


I occasionally use 60/40 solder for electronics/hobby use and I was wondering how much of a hazard this might be. I try not to inhale the visible smoke (from the rosin core) and I use disposable nitrile gloves. I also try to open a window if possible. What I'm wondering is if I touch the solder with my gloves OR my hands, and then touch a tool (such as a wire cutter or screwdriver) or even a door knob or light switch, would that thing be then contaminated with enough lead that I would need to isolate it or clean it because it might give someone lead poisoning?

And what if I touch leaded vinyl wire insulation (such as that from Christmas lights), would my hands be then contaminated with enough lead for me to have cause for concern?

I'm beginning to wonder/worry about all electrical cords that I come into contact with (such as the wire to my mouse/keyboard or the ethernet cable to my laptop).

I have a young child and an unborn baby and I want to keep them safe...yet, I don't want to freak-out every time I touch a wire or something that MIGHT have come into contact with lead.

Also, is wiping a tool with a damp paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol enough to make it clean?

thank you‍

ANSWER: 04 Jan 2008

Dear Daniel,

you will obtain the very best and most accurate answer to all of your queries in one hit by asking your doctor to do blood lead tests on your whole family. If any of you has an elevated blood lead level (above 2 micrograms per decilitre) then you will want to start making major changes in your practices. The most likely issue with all the potential lead exposure pathways that you have described is if lead solder fumes are being inhaled by yourself or anyone else.

If you plan to continue doing this hobby at home, you should get a fume cupboard or vacuum extracted soldering iron but if anyone's blood lead level is elevated, then you would want to consider not doing the work at home at all.

Certainly, a lead hobby should only be carried out in a designated area that is not accessed by other family members. Then, when you take off your gloves after cleaning your tools (I'm not sure that rubbing alcohol offers any particular advantage though I do know that wiping down with sugar soap is good) at the end of your session, there will be no possibility of lead contamination on the light switch or doorknob.

The usual scenario with solder is that the fumes form a particulate fallout which coats the surfaces in the workspace and it is this dust that you should pay most attention to cleaning (with a good detergent like sugar soap).

Some of the electrical cords on sale in California carry advice that you should wash your hands after touching them and that is sufficient to eliminate lead exposure (as long as no one actually chews on the cords). You will find other helpful hints for electronics hobbyists in our two LEAD HOBBY factsheets:

"Hazards Associated With Leadlighting As A Hobby

"Metal Miniatures: How To Minimise The Risks Of Lead Poisoning & Contamination"

All the best in protecting yourself and your family from lead

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien,

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