What Causes Lead Poisoning in Adults?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
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Adults can become poisoned by lead through food, water, environmental dust exposure or occupational exposure. Many countries have banned lead for use in household paints and pipes, but older houses might still contain lead-based products. Lead poisoning in adults also might occur when using certain traditional medical remedies or cosmetics.

Food and drinking water is a potential source of lead poisoning in adults. Some houses are supplied by lead water pipes or copper pipes that have been sealed with solder made of lead. Fixtures made of brass can also leach lead into water.

Lead solder can be used in several different ways apart from soldering water pipes and can even be present in food cans from countries that have not banned its use in food cans. Some people contract lead poisoning from drinking homemade spirits made in lead-soldered stills. Food or beverages stored in leaded crystal containers might contain lead that has leached from the crystal. Other containers that might leach lead into food include china, ceramics and porcelain with certain glazes.

People who have hobbies such as making stained glass using lead solder or pottery with lead glazes are at a higher risk of lead poisoning than the general population. Jobs that potentially expose workers to lead include the those in the mining industry or those of metal smelters. People who help manufacture radiators, wire or batteries might also be exposed to lead.


Lead-based paint chips are a commonly known danger to children, who might eat them or lick the paint. Although an adult usually would not eat paint chips, one might become poisoned from accidentally ingesting lead dust from degrading paint. When renovating an older house that might contain lead-based paint, homeowners should take care to remove potential lead dust from the house. Sanding lead paint or using a flame to remove old paint will release tiny lead particles into the air, and the particles might be inhaled.

Sometimes lead is present in soil, especially near roadways. This is left over from the era when leaded fuel was used in automobiles. Soil lead can also come from old paint.

Lead poisoning in adults also might be traceable to some herbal or traditional remedies. The Indian tonic ghasard, the Thai stomach remedy daw tway and the Hispanic remedy greta, also known as azarcon, can all contain high levels of lead. The Latin American deodorant litargirio, or litharge, also might contain lead. The cosmetic kohl, used as an eyeliner, might also cause lead poisoning in adults.

The signs of lead poisoning in an adult include weakness, a slowdown in mental capability and memory loss. Poisoned people also might exhibit stomach pain, headaches and high blood pressure. Pregnant women need to take special care to avoid lead poisoning, because the lead can cause miscarriages. Lead poisoning in men can reduce sperm count and affect fertility.



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