Information about lead poisoning and how to prevent exposures.
What is Lead?
Lead is a natural metal found in the ground. Before 1970 it was used in
many building materials and lead is still used in industry today. Until
2002 most petrol contained lead and exhaust from cars has deposited
more lead into the soil of urban areas.
Lead is poisonous if swallowed. If lead is allowed to enter a child's
body it can cause serious long-term health problems.
How may a child be exposed?
Lead can enter the body when children breathe, eat or drink
substances that contain lead. Lead is not broken down by the body. It
stays toxic and takes a long time to be removed from the body. If a
child swallows something containing a high amount of lead (eg sinker,
bullet, shot, lead-light) they need to go to hospital for assessment.
The most common sources of lead exposure for children in Australia
Paint in older buildings
Lead-based paint from buildings built before 1970. Lead paint has a
sweet taste which is appealing to children.
Lead-based paint that is disturbed during renovation. Sanding lead
based paint creates dust that can be inhaled or swallowed.
Lead flashing in roofing materials.
Contaminated water from pipes. Lead is used in the make up of both
old and new taps. New plumbing may release low levels of lead for up
to 5 years.
Imported toys and cosmetics
Lead-containing paint used in toys (in, particular those made
Some Hashmi eyeliners imported from overseas have been found to
Lead based fuel was banned in Australia in 2002. The lead
contamination in soil, the environment and home, from previous heavy
motor traffic in some urban environments, can still result in
increased lead levels in children.
Lead is present in many common consumer products and can build up,
over the years, in the soil of gardens and in the dust of ceilings in
the home. This is particularly true of homes close to industries that
produce or use lead.
Other exposures include
Lead in herbal medicines, especially traditional Chinese and Indian
Glazed pottery and lead crystal food containers.1
Lead in fishing sinkers and other metal objects.
Lead from family and friends work or hobbies ie; lead lighting,
shooting, glazing, making fishing sinkers.
Lead poisoning is when a person has elevated levels of lead in their
blood. Poisoning may be as a result of a single high level of exposure
(acute exposure) or as a result of exposure over a longer period of
time (chronic exposure).
Symptoms of both types of exposure may include:
Acute exposure (a high level of exposure at one time)
Chronic exposure (ongoing exposure)
Poor school performance
Impaired growth 2,3
How common is lead exposure?
At least 75,000 Australian pre-school children have elevated blood
lead levels. Children under the age of four are at the greatest risk
The developing brain is more sensitive to lead.
Children absorb more lead, if swallowed, than adults.
Children are more likely to eat non-food substances.
Children have more hand to mouth contact.4
Lead exposures often happen in groups. Children and families living
with adults found to have lead poisoning should have blood lead
If you think your child may have been exposed to lead please
contact your general practitioner for further advice and a blood
Prevention of lead exposure
Test for lead in any pre-1970 paint in your home and contact a
professional for lead paint removal.
Avoid homes and child care near any known lead industry.
Limit the use and purchase of lead-based products and keep such
products in secure places in the home.
Wash your children's hands regularly to minimise the amount of dust
and dirt that is transferred from their hands to the mouth.6
Dust and mop with a damp cloth regularly to remove lead containing
Encourage a diet with plenty of foods rich in iron, calcium and
vitamin C, this will minimise the absorption of any lead into your
Be cautious of imported cosmetics, alternative medicines and toys.
Keep dust contaminated clothes from work places where there is lead
out of the home and away from children.
Lead can be found in the home.
Lead exposure can affect your child's development.
If your child swallows a solid lead item take them to hospital.
Contact your general practitioner for further advice if you think
your child may have been exposed to lead
Lead Reference Centre, New South Wales Environment Protection
Authority, Australia, Lead Poisoning Guide for Families Accessed
Reith, D.M., O'Regan, P., Bailey, C. & Acworth, J. (2003)
Serious Lead Poisoning in Childhood: Still a Problem After a
Century Paediatric Child Health 39. 623-626.
Ringold, S. (2005) Lead Poisoning The Journal of the American
Medical Association (293) 18. 2304.
Lead Advisory Service, Australia (1997) How Would You Know if You
or Your Child is Lead Poisoned? Lead Action News Accessed via
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Lead Advisory Service, Australia (1997) The Main Sources of Lead
Accessed via http://www.lead.org.au/fs/fst2.html