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Sources of lead

There are many sources of lead in our environment. Here are a few of the most common:

Aluminum cookware

High lead levels have been found in aluminum cookware brought to the United States from other countries. However, lead-containing aluminum cookware (such as pressure cookers, pots and pans) has also been found in cookware from local stores and online. This table of cookware that contains lead (975 KB) shows the aluminum cookware that our researchers have found to release lead above levels recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

While the extent of this problem is not clear, we suggest avoiding inexpensive aluminum cookware, especially if does not come with detailed use and care instructions. Stainless steel cookware typically has no or very low lead levels and is a safer choice. Learn more about ways to reduce your exposure to lead in aluminum cookware (2.2 MB) in our infographic.

If you are unable to replace aluminum cookpots or pressure cookers, try these no-cost or low-cost solutions to reduce lead exposure:


  • Wash cookware with warm water, a delicate scrubber, and mild soap. Rinse thoroughly and dry immediately to avoid corrosion.
  • Never use steel wool or abrasive or corrosive cleaners on aluminum cookpots or pressure cookers.
  • Avoid using the dishwasher for aluminum cookware as some dishwasher detergents can be harsh, especially when used with very hot water.


  • Avoid cooking very acidic foods like vinegar and tomatoes in aluminum cookware. Acidic solutions significantly increase the amount of lead released from the cookware.
  • When cooking with aluminum pots or pressure cookers, use wooden or silicone utensils. Using metal utensils can damage the cookware’s surface.
  • Only cook on low or medium heat. Aluminum conducts heat efficiently, so there is no need to cook on high heat. Cooking on high heat increases the amount of lead released into the food.


Store cooked food in BPA-free plastic or glass containers, rather than leaving food in the cookpot or pressure cooker. More information about BPA is available at - Questions & Answers on Bisphenol A (BPA) Use in Food Contact Applications, FDA.

Use a pot rack or pan protector to store your cookpots, rather than stacking them on top of each other.


Most aluminum cookpot and pressure cookers can be recycled at City of Seattle and King County transfer stations for no charge. Please see specific disposal information for Seattle and King County:

Lead paint

The most common source of lead exposure is lead-based paint. Lead carbonate [PbCO3/Pb(OH)2)] was added to paint to speed drying, improve durability, and protect the surface from corrosion. Even though the negative health impacts of leaded paint were known as far back as the early 1900s, lead in residential paint was not banned until 1978. If a building was built before 1978 and has older paint, it should be assumed to have lead paint.

Children are at particular risk from lead paint because they occasionally eat paint chips (sometimes on purpose). Lead paint can have a sweet taste, and babies and toddlers will often lick or suck windowsills, crib bars, and other objects that may be coated with lead paint. Leaded dust from peeling, chipping, cracking or otherwise deteriorating lead paint will collect onto floors and other surfaces. Children touch the dust, and then put their fingers in their mouths.

Lead paint will only harm you or your family if it is peeling, flaking, or otherwise coming off of the surface.

Leaded dust from paint can be a big problem during remodeling, when lead dust can become a hazard for the whole family, but particularly children. There are many tips for safe remodeling, which guide the use of sanders, scrapers, heat guns, keeping children and pets out of work areas, and how to clean up afterwards. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s website on Lead Abatement, Inspection and Risk Assessment for more information.

Imported candies

Lead has been found in candy and candy wrappers imported primarily from Mexico and Asia. Learn how the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to control lead in imported candies.

Candy containing tamarind, chili powder or salt that is mined from certain parts of the world may have a higher likelihood of having elevated levels of lead. Candies with elevated lead levels appear to primarily be imported from Mexico, Malaysia, China, and India. Read more on the Lead in Candy webpage from the California Department of Public Health.

Hobbies and art

Some art supplies, such as artists' paint, still have lead in them. Buy only non-toxic paints for your children. Some hobbies require the use of lead, such as stained glass, firing guns, making ammunition, and making fishing lures and sinkers. Keep children away from areas where lead is being used. Be sure not to bring lead dust on your clothing into the home.

Contaminated soil

Another common source of lead. Two possible sources of contaminated soil are leaded gasoline and industrial operations like smelters. While gasoline is generally no longer a major source of lead, decades of leaded gasoline use left contamination in the soil up to one-quarter of a mile from the road. Historic smelter operations, such as the ASARCO copper smelter that operated near Tacoma for almost 100 years, may also have contaminated the soil. ASARCO's "Tacoma Smelter Plume" pollution was carried by the wind throughout the Puget Sound, leaving elevated levels of lead and arsenic in the soil in some parts of King County.

People and pets can track contaminated dirt into homes via their shoes or pet’s paws. Children can then accidentally eat or breath in the contaminated dirt, especially if they are crawling or playing on the floor. To lower the risk of lead entering your home from contaminated dirt, take your shoes off and wipe your pets’ paws before entering the home. Regularly wet wipe, mop, and vacuum with a HEPA vacuum to remove potentially contaminated soil.


Some jewelry is made of lead and can pose a danger to children if they put the jewelry in their mouths. Lead is not absorbed through the skin. Teach children to keep jewelry out of their mouths, or do not allow children to have lead jewelry. Learn more from the CDC.

Lead at work

Adults who work in industries that use lead (battery manufacturing, pipe fitting, firing ranges, demolition, glass production, smelting operations, etc.) should be careful not to bring lead home with them. Shower and change clothes and shoes at work. Do not contaminate your car. Read more about it on this poster (PDF) from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


Glazed pottery and leaded crystal may also be sources of lead. Minimize the use of these products.

Drinking water

Lead in drinking water usually comes from water distribution lines or plumbing rather than lakes, wells or streams. Water is not a common source of lead in King County. The largest source of lead in drinking water occurs through leaching from lead-containing pipes, faucets, and solder, which can be found in plumbing of older buildings. If you have older pipes in your home, be sure to run the water for 60 seconds every morning before using it. Do not use hot tap water for drinking purposes. Read more about lead in school drinking water from the Washington State Department of Health.

Screenshot of poster about five things to know about lead in water

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5 things to know about lead in drinking water
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Vinyl mini-blinds imported from China, Indonesia, Taiwan and Mexico before 1997 contained lead, which was used to make them less brittle. Lead dust forms on the blinds, particularly when the blinds are exposed to sun and heat. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, different blinds contained different amounts of lead. While the blinds are no longer imported into the United States, older blinds containing lead may still be in use or available for purchase in thrift shops.

Lunch boxes

There is evidence that some soft vinyl lunch boxes may contain lead in the lining. The Center for Environmental Health claims that there is a real risk to children. However, the Consumer Products Safety Commission does not believe the amounts of lead present pose a serious risk to children.