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QUESTION: Can lead weights be used safely for hydrotherapy for a physically handicapped person? 24/05/12 Arizona, USA - United States of America


Having moved into a new home we are in final stages of construction of an in ground swimming pool. My son is physically handicapped and the pool is therapeutic for him. We have had large swim spas, or hot tubs, in the past and my wife has learned how to position my son in the pool for therapy . This is why we had the pool built to mimic the seating arrangement of our old hot tub.

All of the above is largely irrelevant to my question, except that I would like you to know the context of our issue and how very important it is to us.

Since my son has no control my wife leans him against the pool surface (headrest in the old spa). We are now attempting to contrive a head rest which will be made of foam and a water compatible cover, but it must be weighted.

I have been looking at diving weights as an answer and came across a question you had answered on that topic. I have also read per one source that lead is toxic only if inhaled or ingested and not through skin contact. Through another source (Wikipedia) it says those are the main sources of exposure , but it says occasionally through skin contact and suggests that this would be through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin. Either way it isn't something we want to take a risk with.

I thought lead used in diving weights was organic not inorganic.

 My three questions are:

  1. Is there anything about lead being in a chlorine swimming pool daily for a couple of hours, that we need be concerned with? In other words does lead and chlorine make a harmful combination?
  2. are there such things as waterproof diving weights that are made of something other than lead that you are aware of?
  3. Does lead leach through rubber/vinyl coatings on dive weights? and if it does in the application we are speaking of should we be concerned?

Also California, per your published response at Coatings for lead fishing and diving weights on a question of diving weights requires vinyl coating and hence my question about the efficacy of coating.

I am sorry for the wordy question. I am also sorry that we are in a bit of a hurry, since the pool company has told us all along that they will have no problem fabricating something suitable, and now over 1 year after our first inquiries with them it appears that making this work has fallen on me.

Any help you can give us would be most appreciated.

EMAIL TWO Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 4:27 AM

Hi Ms. O'Brien,

Thank you so much for your very hard effort on our behalf.

I think I have enough information to conclude that lead will not work for us. Its just not worth taking the chance.

I appreciate the suggestion of marbles.

I will look into that further. I am also considering a cut from a slab of granite. Its is a natural substance (but so is lead), however I now wonder about that since it is cut from a mountain and I am sure it contains metal.

I am interested in your thoughts on that and if you have an opportunity would love to hear them.

Any help you can give us would be most appreciated.

ANSWER: May 24 2012 Dear Sir,

I empathise with the long road you have trod to still not have the perfect hydrotherapy set-up for your son.

Yours' is the first diving weight enquiry I've had since I wrote the answer at Are there any lead-free Diving Weights on the market in Australia or overseas? so I've just web-searched some answers today and found the following on Wiki:

Weight belt

Weight belts are the most common weighting system currently in use for recreational diving.[1] Weight belts are often made of tough nylon webbing, but other materials such as rubber can be used. Weight belts for scuba and breath hold diving are generally fitted with a quick release buckle to allow the dumping of weight rapidly in an emergency.

A belt made of rubber is called a Marseillaise belt. These belts are popular with freedivers as the rubber contracts on descent as the diving suit and lungs are compressed, keeping the belt tight throughout the dive.[2]

Solid belt weight and pouches holding lead shot for scuba diving.

The most common design of weight used with a belt consists of plain, rectangular lead blocks with two slots in them threaded onto the belt. These blocks can be coated in plastic, which further increases corrosion resistance. These weights are often marketed as being less abrasive to wetsuits.

Some weight belts contain pouches to contain lead weights or round lead shot: this system allows the diver to add or remove weight more easily than with weights threaded onto the belt. The use of shot can also be more comfortable, as the shot moulds to the diver's body. Weight belts using shot are called shot belts. Each shot pellet should be coated to prevent corrosion by sea water, as use of uncoated shotgun shot here for sea diving would result in the lead eventually corroding into powdery lead chloride.


I also found an interesting discussion board thread at and if the topic had not been closed off in 2008, I would certainly have added the following points to the discussion:

- lead most definitely can be absorbed via the skin, especially if the skin is wet. I have just emailed you our "Info Pack 58 - References on skin absorption of lead" to support that statement;

- a little bit of lead is still too much. My administrator has just updated and emailed you our "Info Pack 56 - References on skin absorption of lead" to support that statement;

- if all the ways that were tried by all the contributors to that discussion board, failed to stop lead oxide dust being spread into the environment (by wearing down or breaking through a coat of paint or plastic and duct tape etc) then these methods are obviously inadequate for use of the weights in a chlorinated pool, especially if the users of that pool are prone to swallowing the pool water.

It seems that chlorinated water will over time corrode any metal, so perhaps glass marbles would suffice as weights? As long as they can be coated with a thick durable coating, that might be your best bet.

You can see a photo of such a coating at Lead-Free and Hazard Reduction Products & Services with the following:

"FSW fishing sinkers are available for worldwide distribution on ebay [ ] and have a specially formulated outer durable polymer coating (patent pending) which has the health benefit of very little or no handling contact with lead, also the environmental benefit of very little or no lead leaching in either salt or freshwater. FSW sinkers are available in three colours and luminous, in a huge variety of sizes and shapes."

Or you can contact Paul Hodson, Fishing sinker maker , FSW.

I hope this helps. It would be wonderful if you could let me know how you get on.


Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 7:58 PM

Dear Sir,

I’m so glad you raised the question of granite. That reminded me that I once came across a stone supply company for aquariums. Presumably such stones would have to be non-toxic (for the sake of the fish) and might be able to be included inside the headrest.

The lead in fishing sinkers and diving weights is inorganic lead which is just as deadly as organic lead if you get it into you! A lead assessor once told me there’s enough lead in one fishing sinker to kill thousands of children, if they each ate a tiny portion of it.

My colleague found bismuth fishing sinkers are available for purchase online but according to there are some toxics concerns with bismuth. Encouragingly however, the ATSDR – - does not have a bismuth toxicology fact sheet. They’re the ones I usually turn to for the low-down on toxics.

I’ve sent a request for other non-lead chlorine-tolerant weight ideas to several hundred toxics campaigners globally so I will forward any more suggestions that come in.



EMAIL THREE Sent: Sunday, May 27, 2012 11:53 AM

Subject: Substitution - a chlorine-safe substitute for lead weights

Dear Sir,

I’ve received the following three replies which suggest three solutions: swimmers’ in-pool training weights, sand or beach stones. [I’ve web-searched and emailed an inquiry re: in-pool training weights to a swimmers’ equipment supply company in Australia and will send you the reply if it is useful.] Plus: “check with people in the occupational therapy and rehabilitative medicine field.” What do you think?


 EGROUP ANSWER ONE From: Dr Alison Bleaney Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 9:50 PM

What do swimteams use for training weights in their training pools? Would that do? Or just stones from the beach??

Ali, Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network (TPEHN), Tasmania, Australia

EGROUP ANSWER TWO From: Eric Uram Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 10:17 PM

The recreational fishing industry and non-toxic hunting folks have replaced lead sinkers and shot with two metals – bismuth and tungsten. While I cannot give you any direct knowledge about their behavior in a chlorine pool, I might suggest that plain old ordinary (high quality) silica sand might be the best option – besides being highly resistant to any chemical interactions, it is non-toxic, fairly dense and would readily conform to contours. So, would present a safer (and cheaper) option than using metals, etc.

Eric Uram

Executive Director

EGROUP ANSWER THREE From: A scientist Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 9:00 PM

Subject: Substitution - safe inexpensive materials with a higher density than water

In general, sand is often used as a weight for items in water and has the flexibility to be formed as needed. "Play sand" that is distinguished from sand used for construction is usually of a higher quality, though still requires rinsing. A case made of heavy tightly woven cloth (e.g., cotton duck, canvas) case will keep the sand from moving out of the cloth, once it is rinsed free of ultrafine particles and disinfected (probably via rinse with the same chemicals that is are used in the spa). As with anything used in a spa setting, it needs to be disinfected regularly, or kept in a plastic bag inside the cloth case in order to prevents bacteria from growing in the material. Depending on the degree of chlorination in the water, that may be a greater or lesser issue.

He may want to check with people in the occupational therapy and rehabilitative medicine field for additional ideas on this.

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