Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (2023)

A vintage military-style trunk she bought at an eastern Michigan flea market when she was a teenager became a staple of Jennifer Poupard's life.

Poupard, now 37, originally bought it to store her CDs. Over the years, the trunk — styled with leather handles and metal buckles — served as a container for shoes, as a coffee table and as a resting place for a record player.

When her child, Wallace, was born in 2013, it was put to a new use.

"[Wallace] would pull the stand at that trunk and turn around and run to me," Poupard said. "And that is around when I noticed the numbers going up."

The numbers that went up were Wallace's blood lead levels.

Poupard was participating in the food assistance program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in Chicago at that time, which required Wallace to receive regular blood lead tests.

In 2014, Wallace's 18-month lead check came back as 5.3 micrograms per deciliter. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control's reference level was 5 micrograms per deciliter. The CDC lowered that threshold to 3.5 in October 2021.

After consulting with other moms in an online Facebook group, Poupard began to believe her beloved heirloom might be the culprit.

Vintage products purchased at thrift stores or antique shops were often made decades ago – long before current federal regulations on toxic substances went into effect.

Lead paint is regularly found in vintage items more than 40 years old, but sales of these items aren't regulated, and many buyers aren't aware of the threat the neurotoxin poses when they bring second-hand finds into their homes.

'No normal level of lead'

Lead paint and lead pipes are cited as the top risks of lead exposure to children. Poisoning from consumer goods and antiques is rare. Still, state health department websites for Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska warn about the dangers of lead in hand-me-down furniture, old ceramics and antique toys.

Elevated blood lead levels in children are typically discovered through routine screenings, not because the child showed signs of poisoning, said Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, a family physician who previously practiced in St. Louis for 10 years.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue and maybe headaches, Hooks-Anderson said. And even if there are no immediate symptoms to warn parents and doctors, the long-term consequences of lead exposure for children can be severe.

"One of the most dangerous misconceptions about lead is that levels have to be really high to cause damage," Hooks-Anderson said.

In a 2010 study, researchers with Oregon State University, the State University of New York and the University of California-Berkeley purchased used items from second-hand and antique stores.

They found that leaded items could be purchased at each of the stores they visited in Virginia, New York and Oregon, and that 19 of the 28 purchased items violated the 1978 federal standard banning the use of residential paint containing greater than 600 parts per million lead.

The most toxic item researchers tested was a salt shaker lid containing 714 times that limit. Researchers agreed, at the time, that it would likely be impossible to regulate the sale of second-hand items at antique stores and flea markets and that children should not be allowed to come into contact with items purchased from an unregulated seller.

Concerned about where the lead was coming from, Poupard sought answers online. That's where she found Tamara Rubin, an activist for consumer goods safety with a large online community.

Rubin founded Lead Safe Mama LLC in 2016 to formally continue the work she'd started in 2008 educating the public about lead hazards after her own children were poisoned. She estimates she interacts with up to 100 people a day, answering questions and providing resources.

About "90% of my readership is moms," Rubin said, "Moms and grandmas."

In Rubin's private Facebook group of more than 18,000 members, parents seek support and advice from one another about experiences involving lead poisoning or children's exposure to leaded items.

Rubin sent Poupard 3M swabs to test items in her home for lead, as she's done for countless other families. The swabs turn pink or red when they detect lead on surfaces.

"And I tested the trunk. And that was positive, like immediately bright red on the swab," Poupard said.

The EPA has raised questions about the accuracy of 3M swabs, including issues about false positives in a report on the product from 2012. But Poupard wasn't willing to take any chances, especially after recalling the first summer she had the trunk, when her health had taken a temporary turn for the worse around the same time that she was using a metal scraper and wire brush to strip off the green paint on the trunk.

It's unlikely the trunk was the only thing contributing to Wallace's lead levels in the older apartment. But Poupard immediately covered it with a sheet to limit Wallace's exposure. But given its size, it took years for her to finally get the trunk out of their lives. And when she was finally able to get rid of it, she wanted to make sure on one else would bring it into their home.

(Video) Lead Poisoning Prevention: Lead Painted Vintage Pyrex Cinderella Bowl [See links in comments]

Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (2)

/ Jennifer Poupard


Jennifer Poupard

"I wrote with permanent marker all over it like in huge letters 'LEAD PAINT' on all the sides and inside," Poupard said. "And I timed it for when the garbage truck should be coming that day or the next day.

Building materials like doors, window sashes and decorative items from before 1978 are particularly risky, said Dr. Kandace Fisher-McLean, a professor with the University of Missouri Extension and Coordinator for the National Healthy Homes Partnership. Vintage dishware, ceramic items, silverware, jewelry, toys and furniture are also more likely to contain lead.

But there isn't a reliable way for a person to assess whether an older object is a lead hazard.

"You can certainly use that age marker, as a general sort of rule of thumb," Fisher-McLean said.

"But with all of the items that are on the market, and all of the ways and means that people could obtain these items — from antique stores, to flea markets, to thrift stores to garage sales — there was absolutely no way to regulate all of the things that are already on the market."

Lead has to get inside the body to be dangerous, and children are most vulnerable, Fisher-McLean said.

"Children are naturally curious. ... They touch lots of things, then they put their hands in their mouth."

As a good rule of thumb, "don't purchase vintage toys for your children to play with," Fisher-McLean cautioned.

Vintage dishes can be especially risky as they're exposed to heat and light over time, leading to the production of lead dust, which poses a danger if ingested or inhaled, Fisher-McLean said.

When 15 children and adults tested positive for elevated blood lead levels tied to the use of ceramic ware last year, the New York Health Department issued a warning about purchasing or using traditional ceramic ware from flea markets, street vendors or places where it's difficult to determine the manufacturer or how the product was made.

(Video) 2 children, 2 adults get lead poisoning from ceramicware pots

At the Chesterfield Antique Mall in St. Louis County, M0., a vintage 1940s dish set is on display and for sale.

"A piece like that might be beautiful to hang on your wall or to put in a china cabinet," Fisher-McLean said. "But certainly, it's not something that you want to be eating off of."

Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas declined to comment on policies regarding the sale of damaged or vintage dishes and toys.

Discount store items

Even new items can pose threats of lead exposure.

Discount stores including Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree offer thousands of products at low prices, from essential items to kids' toys. With hundreds of discount stores across Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, people may rely on these retailers — especially when they are the only options close to home.

Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a nonprofit that works to reduce lead and other toxic elements in items purchased at discount stores, has conducted studies over the years on the lead levels in things like tablecloths, jewelry and toys sold at discount stores.

Its most recent study found that of 226 items tested, the level of toxic chemicals, including lead, dropped from 81% in 2015 to 53% in 2022. While the lead levels were improved, lead soldering in toys and headphones targeted toward children were found to have high levels of the toxic metal.

The group wants discount stores to demand manufacturers produce products with no lead, said José Bravo, national coordinator for the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.

"Lead is such an easy lift for stores or retailers to go upstream to their suppliers and say, 'Guess what? No lead is safe lead,'" he said.

Whether from an antique shop or discount store, toxic lead items are easy to buy (3)

Education Images / Education Images/Universal Image


Education Images/Universal Image

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Bravo said the reduction in the number of items being found containing toxins is progressing. Along with the report, one of his organization's efforts is communicating with each company's executives to update their policies to expand the restricted substance list. But the lists are only being applied to the store-labeled products, meaning more work needs to be done so it applies to everything sold.

Dollar Tree's corporate spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

The federal Consumer Goods Protection Agency sets standards for tolerable amounts of lead in products. So far this year, six products have been recalled for exceeding a lead concentration of 90 parts per million in children's products, which is the maximum amount of lead allowable. Bravo said leaving it up to regulators isn't always enough.

"Most often enough, people would say, 'Well, yeah, you know, the EPA, or the Food and Drug Administration, or somebody is safeguarding our health when it comes to them.' That's not the reality," Bravo said.

Bravo admits eliminating lead from products is only one piece of addressing lead exposure.

"I like to say if we can minimize exposure $1 at a time from these dollar stores, I think it goes a long way."

The poor pay the price

For some people, the solution is simple: Get rid of items found to have lead in them. Yet Bravo, reflecting on his childhood, contends that not everyone is able to afford that luxury.

"A lot of these toys are really flimsy, a lot of these products are really flimsy, and they fall apart," he said. "Once they fall apart, children keep on playing. I remember myself having something that fell apart and because of my upbringing, and we didn't have [the] resources, I still played with. Same thing happens with this."

And even when products get discarded in the trash, it's lower income and communities of color that suffer the most.

"Where are those municipal trash areas located? They're located back in our community, right?" he said. "And it rains, it goes in the water."

When it rains, leachate, a liquid formed from drawing out many chemicals in waste, can make its way into the soil if a landfill lacks a liner or has a damaged liner. From there, it can leach into groundwater, according to a 2013 paper written by several Belgium researchers looking into environmental and socio-economic impacts of landfills.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the CDC, lists among the environmental health hazards for lead, "people living near hazardous waste sites, incinerators, landfills," adding that people can be exposed to lead by "breathing air, drinking water, eating foods, or swallowing dust or dirt that contains lead."

The Missouri Independent and the Midwest Newsroom are jointly exploring the issue of high levels of lead in the children in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Copyright 2022 Midwest Newsroom. To see more, visit .


What items still contain lead? ›

Table of Contents
  • Paint (older homes, old toys, furniture, crafts)
  • Dust.
  • Soil.
  • Drinking water.
  • Air.
  • Folk medicines, ayurvedics, and cosmetics.
  • Children's jewelry and toys.
  • Workplace and hobbies.

Do vintage clothes have lead? ›

Unless you are certain that the item does not contain lead, assume vintage items contain lead and take appropriate precautions to prevent lead poisoning. Do not allow children or pregnant women to come into contact with vintage items assumed or known to contain lead.

Is there lead in antique furniture? ›

Lead paint is regularly found in vintage items more than 40 years old. But the sale of vintage items containing lead paint isn't regulated, and many buyers aren't aware of the threat the neurotoxin poses when bringing second-hand finds into their homes.

What is the most toxic form of lead? ›

Organic lead: This form of lead is extremely dangerous — it can be absorbed through the skin and is much more toxic to the brain and central nervous system than inorganic lead.

How do you know if something has lead in it? ›

Lead test paper will turn pink to dark purple, and copper test paper will turn pink to crimson. The test paper may leave a pink or red mark on the object. After the test, use clean water to rinse the test area on the metal to remove residual chemicals from the test, and dry the surface immediately.

Does washing clothes remove lead? ›

If you are exposed to lead and your employer does not launder your clothing, you should take the clothing home in a plastic bag and put the clothing directly into the washing machine. You should use detergents to remove lead.

Can lead in clothes hurt you? ›

Marketplace purchased a kids raincoat from AliExpress for just $6 US. Lead can cause damaging health effects to the brain, heart, kidneys and reproductive system. Children and pregnant people are more vulnerable, and infants and children are the most at risk, according to Health Canada's website.

Can you get lead poisoning from clothing? ›

Heavy metals such as lead have been discovered in clothing dyes and synthetic fabrics. They are highly toxic and can cause permanent brain damage, kidney and liver damage, reproductive issues and more.

What are early signs of lead exposure? ›

Symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, stomach cramps, constipation, muscle/joint pain, trouble sleeping, fatigue, irritability, and loss of sex drive. Most adults with lead poisoning don't look or feel sick.

How long does it take to get lead poisoning? ›

How long it takes a child to absorb toxic levels of lead depends on the concentration of lead in the dust. Rosen says that in a typical lead-contaminated housing unit, it takes one to six months for a small child's blood-lead levels to rise to a level of concern.

Can lead penetrate the skin? ›

Dermal exposure plays a role for exposure to organic lead among workers, but is not considered a significant pathway for the general population. Organic lead may be absorbed directly through the skin. Organic lead (tetraethyl lead) is more likely to be absorbed through the skin than inorganic lead.

How do you test for lead in antiques? ›

First you'll need a lead test kit. I use the 3M LeadCheck Swabs, they're very cheap and super simple to use. Buy a few packs if you have lots of vintage decor like I do. Follow the directions on the package, but the basic gist is this: if the swab rubs red, it has lead paint.

How do you test furniture for lead? ›

How To Test Your Furniture For Lead Paint. #TuesdayTipsWithFallon

Can you get lead poisoning from sanding old furniture? ›

Attempting to sand lead paint off a surface will release lead contaminated dust into the air. If you are not properly protected, you can end up breathing in this lead dust and possibly get lead poisoning.

How do you get rid of lead in your body? ›

In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it's excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.

What are 2 major sources of lead poisoning? ›

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the most common sources of lead poisoning.

How do you get rid of lead in your body naturally? ›

Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron better, but also may help with getting rid of lead. Foods rich in vitamin C include: Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit.
Foods that are a good source of iron include:
  1. Lean red meats.
  2. Iron-fortified cereals, bread and pasta.
  3. Beans and lentils.
  4. Cooked spinach and potatoes.
Mar 22, 2018

Will lead stick to a magnet? ›

If a magnet sticks, it is a steel pipe. Magnets will ONLY stick to steel. They will NOT stick to lead or copper. Lead is dull, very soft, and will turn a shiny silver color when scratched.

Can you test for lead with vinegar? ›

On a white plastic plate mix a drop of the Indicator solution with a drop of vinegar. The resulting drop solution mixture should be colorless to yellow. present on the swab a pink-red coloration should appear on it within 1-10 minutes (depending on the Lead concentration).

Can you get lead poisoning from jewelry? ›

Just wearing toy jewelry that contains lead will not cause your child to have a high level of lead in their blood. However, chewing, sucking on or swallowing toy jewelry that contains lead will expose your child to lead. Make sure children in your home do not have access to jewelry or other items that may contain lead.

How do I test my clothes for lead? ›

Testing Fabrics for Lead Contamination using the ... - YouTube

Does lead stay in washing machine? ›

Some laundry detergents can react with lead to form a soap scum containing high levels of lead. If this happens a deposit will be visible on the inside of the wash drum, or with a front load washer it will be visible on the glass, the door gasket and in the space between the door and wash drum.

What detergent removes lead from clothing? ›

You need to use a detergent with surfactants to clean up lead dust. Clorox wipes (and similar brands like Lysol) are bleach-free, and have the surfactants necessary to clean up lead dust — and are good to use on non-launderable surfaces.

How do you tell if your clothes are toxic? ›

Look for GOTS or Oeko-Tex certification on the label, as these organisations prohibit the use of toxic chemicals and dyes in the clothing they certify. Just be sure to check the exact version as the rules may differ. Wash your clothing before its first wear to ensure any excess dye is washed off.

Can you wash lead out of Shein clothes? ›

Yes, for the most part, some —not all— Shein clothes can have toxic elements like lead and chemicals from dyes; thus, wash your Shein clothing hauls before wearing. Washing dilutes these dyes and chemicals, reducing the chances of an allergic reaction.

How do you prevent lead in clothes? ›

The best way to avoid exposure to toxins such as lead via clothing is to avoid fast fashion brands that are more likely to use unsafe dyes. Instead, we recommend shopping from sustainable fashion companies — or even better, looking for items from sustainable companies secondhand.

Do pesticides wash out of clothes? ›

Either the heavy duty liquid, or heavy duty powder detergents under soft water conditions, effectively remove non-oil based pesticide residues. Laundry additives such as chlorine bleach or ammonia do not improve removal of pesticide residues. Never use ammonia and chlorine bleach in the same wash load.

How do I know if my clothes have formaldehyde? ›

If your clothing tag says wrinkle-free, stain-free, static-free, or the fabric has a strong chemical smell, it has most likely been saturated with formaldehyde. If you are sensitive to this chemical, it could cause itchy skin, rashes, or even blisters.

What amount of lead is toxic? ›

Current standards define a lead blood level of 10 mcg/dL in the as being toxic in children. In adults, a level of 25 mcg/dL is considered toxic. Any level of lead can have toxic manifestations, and all health care practitioners should become familiar with the signs, symptoms, and treatment of lead poisoning.

Can you survive lead poisoning? ›

People who survive toxic lead levels may have some permanent brain damage. Children are more vulnerable to serious long-term problems. A complete recovery from chronic lead poisoning may take months to years.

How long does it take to get lead out of your system? ›

Once in the body, lead travels in the blood to soft tissues such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, spleen, muscles, and heart. The half-life of lead varies from about a month in blood, 1-1.5 months in soft tissue, and about 25-30 years in bone (ATSDR 2007).

Does Pyrex have lead? ›

Yes. Almost all vintage Pyrex bowls and baking dishes test positive for large amounts of lead.

What are the symptoms of being slowly poisoned? ›

General symptoms of poisoning can include:
  • feeling and being sick.
  • diarrhoea.
  • stomach pain.
  • drowsiness, dizziness or weakness.
  • high temperature.
  • chills (shivering)
  • loss of appetite.
  • headache.

Is lead poisoning reversible in adults? ›

The neurological and behavioural effects of lead are believed to be irreversible. There is no known safe blood lead concentration; even blood lead concentrations as low as 3.5 µg/dL may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems (1).

Can adults get tested for lead poisoning? ›

For older children and adults, testing is typically only done if there's a reason to believe they've been exposed to high doses of lead.

What is the most common route of lead absorption into the body? ›

Inhalation of airborne lead is generally the most important source of occupational lead absorption. You can also absorb lead through your digestive system if lead gets into your mouth and is swallowed.

Where do people get exposed to lead? ›

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also might be exposed to lead.

Does lead poisoning go away? ›

Is lead poisoning curable? The effects of lead poisoning aren't reversible. But you can reduce blood lead levels and prevent further exposure by finding and removing the sources of lead from your child's home or environment.

Is lead still used in products? ›

Lead in the environment can be naturally occurring, but it is often present from past industrial uses that contributed to environmental contamination. Most intentional uses of lead in products and processes are banned in the United States, including the use of lead solder to seal the external seams of metal cans.

Is lead still used today? ›

Lead paint was banned for consumer use in 1978 in the U.S.; however, it is still used in industrial paints such as those used on cars, bridges, and ships. Lead has also been used as a stabilizer in some plastics like vinyl miniblinds.

What is lead used for today? ›

Lead is still widely used for car batteries, pigments, ammunition, cable sheathing, weights for lifting, weight belts for diving, lead crystal glass, radiation protection and in some solders.

Where is lead found in the home? ›

It is found in the air, soil, dust, and the paint of some homes or buildings built before 1978. Exposure to lead can cause serious health problems. The good news is that lead poisoning can be prevented.

Can lead be absorbed through the skin? ›

Some studies have found lead can be absorbed through skin. If you handle lead and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you could be exposed. Lead dust can also get on your clothes and your hair. If this happens, it's possible that you may track home some of the lead dust, which may also expose your family.

How long does it take to get lead poisoning? ›

How long it takes a child to absorb toxic levels of lead depends on the concentration of lead in the dust. Rosen says that in a typical lead-contaminated housing unit, it takes one to six months for a small child's blood-lead levels to rise to a level of concern.

What consumer goods are made from lead? ›

Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition and cosmetics.

Can you wash lead out of clothes? ›

If you are exposed to lead and your employer does not launder your clothing, you should take the clothing home in a plastic bag and put the clothing directly into the washing machine. You should use detergents to remove lead. Other clothing should not be washed with the work clothing.

Can lead poisoning show up years later? ›

Once lead is in the body, it can can also be stored in bone for years. Even after exposure stops, the lead can come back into the bloodstream and continue to damage the brain and other organs for years to come.

Can you get lead poisoning from clothes? ›

People are exposed to lead and can bring it home on their clothes when they work in auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, construction and certain other fields.

How do you get rid of lead in your body? ›

In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it's excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.

What is a good cost per lead? ›

Average Cost per Lead by Lead Generation Channel
Lead Generation ChannelCost per Lead on Average
Content Marketing$92
Search Engine Advertising$110
Video Marketing$174
Public Relations$294
10 more rows

Does lead poisoning go away? ›

Is lead poisoning curable? The effects of lead poisoning aren't reversible. But you can reduce blood lead levels and prevent further exposure by finding and removing the sources of lead from your child's home or environment.

What is the most likely source of the lead? ›

Common Sources of Lead Poisoning
  • Lead-Based Paint.
  • Contaminated Soil.
  • Children's Toys and Jewelry.
  • Drinking Water.
  • Workplace and Hobby Hazards.
  • Traditional Home Remedies and Cosmetics.
  • Lead Glazed Ceramic Ware, Pottery and Leaded Crystal.
  • Imported Candy.

How long does lead dust stay in the air? ›

These dust particles can stay in the air for up to 10 hours. A person can easily breathe in this fine dust. Once this dust makes contact with the soil, the wind can carry it off- site contaminating surrounding environment and water bodies. How might I be exposed to lead?

How do you test your house for lead? ›

You can test for lead in your home in one of the following three ways:
  1. Home test kits. These tell you if lead is present, but not how much is present. ...
  2. Environmental lab tests. These cost more than do-it-yourself home test kits. ...
  3. Licensed lead risk assessors.
May 12, 2021


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