Sources of Lead

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Lead-based paint was common in homes built before 1978. Since then, the U.S. has banned the use of lead-based paint in homes. Older homes may have lead-based paint under new coats of paint or wallpaper.

Paint can break down with normal wear and tear, or it can be disturbed during renovation and construction activity. The risk of exposure increases as lead-based paint peels, chips, and flakes. As the paint deteriorates, it can release lead dust and paint chips in your home. Lead dust can reach toys, food, soil, windows, doors, stairs, fences, porches, and furniture. This is the most common source of exposure. Lead dust can also easily get on a child’s hands, increasing the chance of lead poisoning. Regular cleaning to remove lead dust can cut down your risk of exposure.


Lead can enter the soil through exterior paint, gasoline, and other environmental sources. Homes with lead-based paint on the exterior can contaminate the soil surrounding the home. Homes near busy streets and highways may be at risk as well. The use of leaded gasoline in the past caused soil contamination. This soil contamination may still be present. Homes near or built on industrial areas are also at risk. Shoes can bring lead into the home. Shoe soles can track contaminated soil to other places if they are not properly cleaned or removed before entering a home. Soil from nearby industrial areas can also contain lead.


Air quality is an important component of your health. There are two sources of air you should consider when dealing with lead.

Air in the Home
Air inside your home can contain lead. Settled dust from lead-based paint can re-enter through vacuuming and sweeping. Window troughs, wells, and sills may contain lead. Opening and closing windows with components that contain lead can release lead dust.

Air Outside
Air outside of the home can also contain lead. Industrial areas, such waste incinerators, lead smelters, utilities, and metals processing facilities, and landfills can release lead into the air. If you work in an industry where lead dust is in the air, you are at risk. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as coveralls and respirators equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, are necessary to limit your exposure. Limit the time spent around lead in these industries, if possible.


The EPA estimates drinking water makes up 20% of a person’s total exposure to lead. Lead from drinking water makes up 40-60% of infants’ exposure if they rely on formula.

Most sources of lead come from plumbing, faucets, and fixtures. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have plumbing and solder that contains lead. Sometimes, the source of lead can come from brass or chrome-plated faucets. As water runs through the plumbing, faucets, and fixtures, there are many factors that affect how much lead enters the water supply. According to the EPA, some factors include

  • The water chemistry (for example, certain minerals in the water can release more lead)
  • The amount of lead in plumbing, fixtures, faucets
  • The water temperature (hot water releases more lead)
  • How long water stays in plumbing
  • The types of coatings inside plumbing

If you are concerned about lead in water, contact your local water utility company. Run the water before drinking, showering, doing laundry or dishes. Use cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing baby formula.


Jewelry and Toys: Toys and toy jewelry, especially imported toys, may contain lead via their paints and pigments. Toy jewelry may also contain lead. For information regarding recalls of jewelry and toys, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Recall List and search for lead.

Imported or Handmade Pottery: Ceramic glaze used in pottery may contain lead and can leach into food stored or prepared in the pottery.

Imported Candies or Foods: Candy, wrappers, and certain ethnic foods may contain lead.

Imported Home Remedies and Cosmetics: Traditional home remedies and beauty products of different cultures may contain lead.

Please visit our What's In Your Cabinet handout to learn more.