What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning, also referred to as plumbism, is a chronic condition that may or may not produce noticeable symptoms. A blood test is required for diagnosis, to determine the severity of the condition and to establish an appropriate treatment program.

Potential sources of lead include:

  • Lead-based paint in homes built before 1978. Lead dust is the most difficult to remove from the home. Just opening a window can scrape off tiny particles of lead-based paint, which can then circulate through the house. Paint chips can crumble into dust and spread through the house.

  • The dirt, soil, plants, trees and leaves outside of an older house can become contaminated with lead from the paint on the inside or outside of the house.

  • Solder, batteries, fishing sinkers, bullets

  • Some crystal, ceramic ware, pewter, pottery and jewelry

  • Vinyl mini blinds and curtain weights

  • Dyes

  • Industrial plants

  • Playground equipment

  • Collectible toys

  • Artists’ paint and stained glass

  • Certain occupations and hobbies involve lead work and may cause lead particles to be transported home: battery and aircraft work, lead smelting, brass foundry work, radiator-repair work, construction, lead abatement work, bridge repair, painting, mining, ceramics, stained-glass making and jewelry making

  • Some cultures use ethnic remedies that contain lead, such as in azarcon, greta, paylooah, surma and ayurvedic

Lead can enter the body in one of four ways:

  • Ingested by mouth

  • Inhaled through the nose or mouth

  • Absorbed through the skin

  • Transported from a pregnant woman’s blood through the placenta to the blood of her unborn baby.


Once lead is present in the bloodstream, it interferes with the normal function of cells. As more cells are affected, tissues begin to die. Lead can get into the tissues of the muscles, bones, teeth and all of the body organs, such as the heart and lungs. 

Return to the Safety Resource Center