Safety of lead tests?
February 3, 2018 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I used these 3M LeadCheck Swabs to test something in my apartment for lead (result was negative). The kit contains a testing card to check the validity of the tests, which has lead on it. After using the kit I handled a bunch of other stuff in my apartment before washing my hands. Should I be worried about that?

I realized that this kit contained this card a few days after using it, when searching online for more information about the tests. But now I remember handling this card to set it aside after opening the package, didn't really look at it and didn't know what it was then. Can't remember whether I actually touched the little circles. After using a couple of the tests, I went and did other stuff around my apartment -- folded laundry, used my computer, looked at a couple books, made a phone call, rearranged some stuff on my desk, etc. I only washed my hands before I ate something later.

On a scale of "this is nothing at all" to "you need to decontaminate your entire apartment," how worried should I be about this? On the one hand, seems like if I did pick up any lead on my hands from touching the card, only a really small amount could have been tracked around onto my stuff. And it would just be surprising if a kit like this without a giant warning on it was super dangerous. (There is a pretty visible "eye and skin irritation" warning, but I think that refers to if you get the liquid inside the swabs on yourself; I discovered a warning about the lead on the card on the back of the box but it's sort of small print ish.)

On the other hand, there's so much cultural anxiety around lead, and OSHA's page about tests like these does have a fairly strict warning: "CAUTION: The test dots on the Test Confirmation Card contain minute amounts of lead. Do not touch these areas. Wash hands after each use."

posted by electric water kettle to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's probably not great for you, but it's also a pretty minute quantity of lead. Health problems from lead contamination in the past had to do with handling and ingesting a lot more lead over a lot longer time. To put it in perspective, people say not to handle mercury. When my dad was a kid, he and his siblings would break open mercury thermometers to get some beads of mercury to play with, since it has interesting physical properties. He melted down some lead shot to make a big paperweight when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure it's still sitting on his counter today -- it has a wooden handle so he wasn't directly handling it, but, still. He's about to turn 78 and is still intelligent, healthy, and walks five miles a day (and I'm pretty sure a little lead and mercury are the least of the potential health risks he interacted with in those 78 years, since he was born on a farm)!
posted by Alterscape at 10:03 PM on February 3, 2018

I'm not a doctor, but when I was a child, probably 6 or 7 years old, one day my cousin and I spent several hours hammering big hunks of lead because... well I don't know why we did it, other than that we found this big pile of lead, and we had a couple hammers. But it was fun, as the lead was quite malleable, and quite dense, which was a good combination for hammering on. It was like being a blacksmith without the need for a forge. Much later, I went on to work for Google, so it must be the case that I'm not too stupid, so I guess it was alright. Compared to what you describe, I'm pretty sure I got a mega-dose of lead on that day, and it doesn't seem to have affected me in any noticeable way. (OTOH, I don't know how things would have turned out had I not hammered that pile of lead that day.) FWIW, my cousin also seems to be fine.
posted by smcameron at 10:06 PM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would be shocked if there is enough lead on a test patch to cause acute poisoning in a newborn gerbil if the entire amount was injected directly into its bloodstream.

The cognitive and health issues we commonly associate with lead poisoning are caused by prolonged exposure over the course of months to years.

So personally, I wouldn't think of it again except as a reminder to be more mindful in the future since there are all kinds of other household items that aren't great to leave lying around or to distribute all over your house accidentally.
posted by wierdo at 10:16 PM on February 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is nothing at all.

IA an environmental professional, IANY environmental professional, I don’t know the details of your lead testing kit, but a) I doubt a consumer product would contain lead levels above a residential standard and b) you’re discussing acute, not chronic, exposure, which would be a pretty high level in an adult to cause issues, and c) the exposure pathways that are typically evaluated are ingestion/dermal and inhalation. Both are risk factors for lead, but with the test kit you’re talking about the danger would be for ingestion, not inhalation (no dust). Unless you were licking the test I don’t think this would even be close to something to worry about for the levels in a Home test validation strip. It is detectable much much lower than the risk levels.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:02 PM on February 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

My toddler was climbing up steps on his hands and knees at someone's house on stairs with flaking paint that I then learned to be lead-based paint. While he was eating a berry. I called Poison Control, thinking like you are (what if he got some dust in his mouth? how do I decontaminate the child car seat?), and they said that even if he'd swallowed an entire flake of paint, he'd be fine and that one-time exposures to worry about were things like swallowing a lead bullet (I think a bullet was the example) whose lead could continue to be absorbed over some time. So I'm thinking that since a toddler who weighed 25 pounds could eat a chip of paint without Poison Control being worried, you're probably very, very fine.
posted by slidell at 11:34 PM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

They still use lead for things like fishing weights, and you just pick them up with your bare hands. It's not like mercury.
posted by The otter lady at 12:41 AM on February 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I grew up in a converted paint warehouse in the 70s and I’m not a doctor but I do OK for myself. You’ll be fine.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:30 AM on February 4, 2018

I have been handling lead based solder both as a hobby and occupationally since childhood taking zero safety precautions. Our soil (in a somewhat urban area) has high lead content, our water main contains lead, I have done significant lead paint removal with limited precautions. My lead level and my child's lead level always checks low to normal. Lead poisoning can be a real issue, but it usually takes someone who is calcium deficient and is gnawing on paint, eating dirt or such. (The body will be more likely to uptake lead if you have a calcium deficiency.) It's smart to take safety precautions, but don't sweat it- if someone who has been as cavalier about it as I have been is OK, you will be fine too.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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