Sources of Lead

Environmental Health
Public Health

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What you need to know

​​​​​​​Lead is a toxic metal that is found in many products. Lead-based paint and lead dust is the most common source of lead. However, there are many other sources of lead in the environment. 

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    Lead in Paint

    Lead-based paint is a common source of lead contamination in Nebraska. Lead paint was widely used in homes up until the 1950s and was not banned for residential use until 1978. Lead paint is still found in many older homes today.

    Lead paint in poor condition contaminates the home as it falls apart or deteriorates. Lead paint chips and lead dust are created when there is:

    • Chipping, cracking, or deteriorated lead-based paint
    • Abrasion, scraping, or friction of lead-based paint
    • Disturbance of lead-based paint during maintenance, renovation, or remodeling

    If your home was built before 1978, you should assume that painted surfaces contain lead unless testing shows otherwise. Lead paint in good shape generally should not be removed, but chipping or cracking lead paint should be addressed. For more information on safe lead-based paint practices, see Homeowner and Renter Information.  

    Lead in Dust

    Lead can contaminate household dust when lead-based paint is deteriorated or disturbed. Lead dust can collect in windowsills, troughs, floors, carpets, furniture, and ventilation filters. It can also get on children's hands, toys, bottles and pacifier. Frequent house cleaning and hand washing can help prevent children from swallowing or breathing in lead dust.

    Lead in Soil

    The soil around a house, garage or fence could be contaminated by lead paint or industrial pollution. If a home has been sandblasted or pressure washed, the contamination could extend further out. Certain communities in Omaha are located in an EPA Superfund site because lead has contaminated several residential yards. For more information about soil contamination in Omaha and the EPA superfund site:

    Lead at Work and Hobbies

    Workers can bring lead home with them from their workplace. This is called 'take home lead' and it can contaminate a child's environment. Adults exposed to lead on the job can also be lead poisoned. Workers should take extra precautions if they work in any of these jobs or worksites involving lead:

    • Contractors who renovate or repair homes or buildings built before 1978
    • Workers who sand, scrape or blast lead-based paint
    • Recyclers of metal, electronics, and batteries
    • Manufacturers of bullets, ceramics, electronics and jewelry
    • Demolition workers who work on old structures or who use cutting torches
    • Firing range workers, gunsmiths or police officers 
    • Construction workers
    • Foundries and scrap metal operations
    • Lead smelters
    • Bridge construction and repair
    • Steel workers

    Some hobbies that could introduce lead to the home include those that work with: 

    • Stained glass
    • Fishing sinkers
    • Computer electronics
    • Automotive repair
    • Reloading bullets

    See Adult Lead Exposures page for more information on preventing occupational exposures and take home lead.

    Lead in Traditional Medicines

    Lead has been found in some traditional medicines and ​remedies from other counties. Lead can be found in powders and tablets given for arthritis, infertility, upset stomach, menstrual cramps, colic and other illnesses. 

    Health remedies from Asia that could contain lead include Daw Tway, Paylooah, Bali goli, and kandu. Health remedies used in Hispanic cultures that can contain lead include Azarcon, Alarcon, Greta, Rueda, Maria Luisa, and Albayalde.

    Lead in Foods and Spices

    Some foods and spices purchased in or sent from other countries can contain high levels of lead. These include spices from India, Vietnam, Syria, and other South Asian countries. Some of these products include curry, turmeric, masala, and chili powder. Spices purchased abroad are more likely to have high lead levels than similar products sold in the United States. To reduce the risk of lead exposure, buy your spices locally. Lead has also been found in some candy imported from Mexico, especially those made with tamarind or chili powder.

    Lead in Glazed Pottery and Ceramics

    Lead can be present in some antique or imported glazed ceramics, pottery, and dishware. Avoid using imported pottery, dishware, and ceramics for storing or cooking food and drinks if you don't know if it contains lead. Some imported pottery labeled lead-free may still contain lead.

    Lead in Drinking Water

    Measures taken during the last two decades have greatly reduced exposures to lead in drinking water. However, lead can still be found in some older homes in interior water pipes, solder, or pipes connecting a house to the main water pipe in the street. The only way to know whether your tap water contains lead is to have it tested. 

    Lead in Toys, Jewelry, and Other Consumer Products

    Toys made in other countries and older painted toys passed down through generations are more likely to contain lead paint. Other items that can contain lead include keys, children's jewelry, some imported plastic mini-blinds, and other imported products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issues recalls for products that contain lead.