LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 1 no 1 Feb 1993   ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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How lead poisoning occurs

Partial listing of the sources of lead contamination in soil, dust, sediment, water, air and living creatures, by pathway

  • Lead can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

  • The main pathway for young children is from leaded petrol fallout, paint and other sources, via ingestion of dust and soil due to normal hand-to-mouth activity.

  • Lead from paint contaminates as chalking or flaking and as paint dust, ash, fumes or flakes when leaded paint is removed by dry sanding, heat gun, blowtorch or scraping respectively. Paint removal from -bridges, tunnels and elevated roadways has high potential for ecosystem contami­nation, while automotive paint removal may also affect young children living near former automotive workshop sites.

  • Industrial wastes, effluent from lead mining, smelting and refin­ing and manufacturing industries, as well as atmospheric fallout and dumped sewage sludge, all contaminate aquatic ecosystems and surrounding land.

  • Demineralisation of the bone, eg during pregnancy and in old age, brings bone lead stores back into blood circulation to wreak more damage in soft tissues. The foetus is then poisoned via the placenta.
  • Lead building materials, toys, jewellery, ammunition discarded in the environment are available for small creatures to eat. Fishing weights and lead shot are major sediment contaminants available to waterfowl.

  • Human food sources of lead include eggs, fruit and vegetables grown near traffic, or smelting or mining activity, some fish and prawns, whole grain products grown with lead-contaminated superphosphate, ham, lead-soldered tinned acidic foods and beverages including cow's milk, infant formula and breast milk.

  • Lead dust on skin, hair, shoes, clothes, kitbags and cars of lead workers.

  • Pottery kiln emissions.

  • Crematorium emissions.

  • Petrol exhaust emission fallout is a major contributor to lead contaminated dust in ceilings and other building cavities which is released into the environment during renovation or fires.

  • Household dust containing lead is re-entrained for inhalation, by vacuuming, sweeping or dusting. Renovation and other activities contaminate houses, especially carpets and soft furnishings, where it is available to young children.

  • Incinerator emissions and ash when lead-containing products are burnt instead of being recycled, eg lead flashings, lead acid batteries, painted wood, etc; or when it is not economical to retrieve the lead from the product, eg lead-soldered electronic goods, packaging inks, light bulbs, leaded paint waste.

  • Burning of wood and coal and other fossil fuels.

  • Volcanic eruptions.

  • Car battery recycling, if poorly regulated, may involve tipping

  • lead-laden acid onto the ground.

  • Burning or indiscriminate dumping of sump oil.

  • Seepage of leachates into water table from poorly managed municipal or toxic waste landfill site.

  • Lead in air or dust which is washed down, and lead leached by rain from lead flashings and deposited in gardens if pipes or gutters are damaged or contaminating waterways via street run-off.

  • Lead is a contaminant in cigarette smoke (due to the use of lead arsenate as an insecticide) and children inhale smoke or chew cigarette butts.

  • Domestic animals may be lead poisoned in a variety of ways, eg young dogs may chew old red lead-backed lino, cats ingest lead dust during grooming and horses and cows lick wrought iron or lead paint on metal machinery.

  • Lead contaminated sewage sludge used on agricultural land may contaminate the food chain.

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Last Updated 10 May 2014
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PO Box 161 Summer Hill NSW 2130 Australia
Phone: +61 2 9716 0014