What is Lead?

Lead is a shiny, silver-colored metal found naturally in the earth’s crust. Lead has been historically used in a variety of ways including in paints, gasoline, batteries, bullets, keys, and some vinyl products such as mini-blinds. Fine particles of processed or recycled lead and/or lead dust from these items can become a health hazard when they are taken into the body through inhalation (breathing) and/or ingestion (swallowing).

Houses & Structures Built Before 1978

  • Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the most common sources of lead exposure in U.S. children. 
    • The manufacturing of lead-based paint for use in housing was banned in 1978. All houses built before 1978 may contain some lead-based paint.
    • Approximately 24 million housing units in the United States have elevated levels of lead-contaminated dust due to deteriorated lead-based paint. More than 4 million of these dwellings are home to one or more young children.
    • Besides the presence of deteriorated paint, high impact surfaces such as doorways and window units may create lead dust with use.
  • Soil can also be lead contaminated from natural weathering of exterior lead-based paint from houses and other structures. Prevent young children from playing in bare soil near the home or other structures by planting grass, covering it with mulch, or planting shrubs.


  • Missouri has rich history of lead mining.  Mining has occurred in 60 of its 115 counties over the last few centuries.
  • Elevated levels of lead contamination in dust, air, and soil have been found around areas of mining activity.
  • Mining waste in these areas has sometimes been used for driveways, fill material, and even in children’s play areas.  They have also migrated by natural process to yards, recreational areas, etc.
  • See a map of historic mining.

Jobs and Hobbies

Other Products

Painted toys, furniture, and toy jewelry

  • That favorite dump truck or rocking chair handed down in the family, antique doll furniture, or toy jewelry could contain lead-based paint or contain lead in the material it is made from. Biting or swallowing toys or toy jewelry that contains lead can cause a child to have an elevated blood lead level.


Traditional Home or Folk Remedies


  • Imported from other countries

Dishes/Storage containers

  • Food and liquids stored or served on chipped lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain can become contaminated because lead can leach from these containers into the food or liquid, especially if the food is acidic.


  • Metal keys may contain lead. Do not let children play with or chew on them.

Plumbing products

  • Materials like pipes and fixtures that contain lead can corrode over time.
    • Old plumbing might be lined with lead. If you have an old plumbing system (in homes built before 1970), which used copper pipes and lead solder, you may want to get your water tested. You can call your local health department or public water provider to find a laboratory that will test your water for lead content. Visit  Private Drinking Water for information on water testing.
    • You can take precautions to limit your exposure to lead in water. If the water from the cold faucet has not been used for several hours, let cold water run for 30 seconds before drinking or using it.
    • Hot water absorbs more lead than cold water. Do not use hot tap water for drinking, cooking, or for making baby formula.