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Sources of lead - consumer products

Which consumer products are known to contain lead?

Lead is still used in many products that we use on a regular basis. In manufacturing, it is used to make things such as pipes, metal sheeting, and filler in the automotive industry. In Canada, the most common use of lead is in the making of automotive batteries, ammunition and solder. Lead pigments may be added to glass to prevent radiation exposure from television and computer screens, storage containers for nuclear waste and x-ray shielding aprons. Trace amounts of lead in a consumer product should not
pose a health risk.

Can I or my family be exposed to lead from using products such as lead batteries and computer monitors?

The risk associated with lead in consumer products depends on exposure to the lead. In most products, the lead is inaccessible so the risk of exposure is low. Children have a greater chance to be exposed to lead as they are lower to the ground and they are more likely to put their fingers and other objects into their mouth.

Lead in Children's Jewelry
How can I determine the lead content of my child's jewelry?

In most products, it is not possible to look at an item and know if it contains lead. In general, products containing a large proportion of lead tend to be soft and heavy for their size.

In the case of children's jewelry, so consumers should ask the retailer for proof that the product does not contain lead. If the consumer has any doubts about such products in their child's possession, they should be removed immediately.

Lead and Art
Which art supplies may contain lead?

Art supplies that may contain inorganic lead pigments include inks, dyes, paints and pastels, wax crayons, and colored glazes for pottery or glassware. Artist's paint contains a much wider range of
pigments than children's paint and is more likely to include lead-based pigments. Lead (grooved moulding into which glass is fitted) is often used in stain glass manufacture, and leaded solders are used in stained glass and enamel manufacture, glass-blowing, and jewelry-making.

What are the risks involved in using art materials that contain lead?

In general, the risk of health effects when using art supplies containing lead can be limited if they are only being used an hour or two per week. Lead accumulates in the body and can persist for months or years, so materials containing lead should be avoided whenever possible.

When pottery coated with lead-based glazes is fired in a kiln, or when lead solder is used in hobbies such as stained glass, glass blowing, enameling and jewelry-making, the heat vaporizes the lead. These fumes are harmful when breathed in, and may settle on nearby surfaces as lead dust. Hands readily become contaminated with lead when lead came is being used in stained glass work. Lead on the hands may be ingested if people then put their hands in their mouth.

As an artist, how can I reduce the risk associated with exposure to lead?

To reduce the health risks associated with lead exposure, choose lead-free solders, enamels, pigments and glazes whenever possible. To avoid pigment dust, apply paints and enamels as liquids rather than powders, whenever possible. Primary or junior school children should not have access to powdered pigments. Good ventilation and good housekeeping are also very important. This includes firing pottery in a kiln with exhaust ventilation, using rubberized gloves when handling lead came and washing one's hands and workplace at the end of the art activity. Also, never put a paint brush in your mouth.

Lead in Candles
How do some candles pose a risk of exposure to lead?

Some candles have wicks with a metallic core which may contain lead that can vapourize during burning. The resulting lead vapours and dust could pose a significant health risk, particularly to children and pregnant women.

You can tell if they have a lead core wick by following three easy steps:

  • Remove any wax from the tip of the wick.
  • Separate the fibre strands from the wick to see if the candle has a metallic core.
  • If the candle has a metallic core, rub the core on a piece of white paper. If the mark left on the white paper is grey, then the metallic core is probably lead.

If you find that your candle has a lead core wick, you should throw it out immediately.

Lead in Children's Toys
Does lead in children's toys represent a hazard?

Under the Hazardous Products Act, lead-based paint is not legal for use on toys sold in Canada. Most toy manufacturers conform to European Standards which limits the amount of lead in toys to 90 ppm. Toys made of soft vinyl (PVC) may contain small amounts of lead as a stabilizer. Health Canada's investigations have found that very few children's products on the Canadian market made from vinyl (PVC) plastic contain significant amounts of extractable lead.

Lead Shot, Jiggers and Sinkers
How do lead shot, jiggers and sinkers pose a risk of exposure to lead?

When lead shot, jiggers and sinkers are manufactured in home-based industries or hobbies, there is a risk of exposure to lead fumes and dust. Small manufacturers may be unaware of the hazards and not use personal protection equipment or other safety measures such as adequate ventilation. Without adequate safety measure, such activity will result in direct exposure to lead fumes and lead dust generated by the deposition of these fumes.

Lead shot and lead fishing jigs and sinkers also are an environmental hazard. Lost lead shot, jigs and sinkers add lead to Canada's natural environment each year.

Health Canada