Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning, which can be serious and can cause health issues and symptoms.

Most cases of lead poisoning come from paint stripping on houses built before the 1980s, indoor shooting, casting of lead bullets, fish sinkers and diving weights, lead smelting and consumption of alternative medicines that contain lead.

Exposure to lead paint is a leading cause of lead poisoning in children and adults.

Young children (particularly those under five years old) are more likely to ingest the paint (as it may taste sweet) or lead-contaminated soil. Adults are more likely to have inhaled lead fumes (from using a heat gun to remove paint) or dust (from sanding paint).

Infants and preschool children in contact with flaking paint or lead-contaminated dust or soil are particularly at risk of developing lead poisoning.

ARPHS’ health protection officers provide advice to the public on lead and many other hazardous substances.

Non-occupational lead poisonings are investigated by ARPHS. Lead poisoning originating from workplaces is assessed by WorkSafe.

If you think you might be suffering from lead poisoning, call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see your doctor or practice nurse.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include mood changes (such as depression or irritability), memory loss, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and tingling and numbness in the fingers and hands. Other symptoms include lack of appetite, feeling sick, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach pains and weight loss.

In Auckland, the most common causes of lead poisoning in the home, or from hobbies and activities, or work, are:

  • paint‐stripping on houses built pre‐1980
  • consumption of herbal and Ayurvedic medicines that contain lead
  • indoor shooting ranges
  • casting of lead bullets, fish sinkers and diving weights
  • lead smelting
  • occupational exposure, such as stripping lead-based paints as part of your job.

Paint stripping

Lead-based paint was commonly used on houses up until about 1980. People who renovate their homes, and strip or sand this paint, can release lead into their environment, commonly as dust, or into the soil. Children are most at risk as they have smaller bodies, are closer to the ground (and therefore the lead), and will often taste or eat contaminated materials, or touch them and put their hands to their mouths. Make sure you are very careful about clean-up, especially if you have young children.

Alternative medicine and products

Auckland Regional Public Health Service has been notified of several cases of lead poisoning resulting from the use of Ayurvedic  and Chinese traditional medicines. Alternative medicines are often classed as dietary supplements, and may not comply with the same safety standards as conventional medicine. Asian alternative medicines and products that may contain lead and other heavy metals include:

  • Ayurvedic medicines
  • Chinese traditional medicines
  • skin-lightening products
  • some ceremonial powders (sindoor)
  • traditional cosmetics eg eyeliner
  • some food additives.

Health advice about these products:

  • only purchase medicines where the contents are clearly listed and known to be safe
  • buying Ayurvedic and other alternative medicines over the internet is not recommended
  • consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking an alternative medicine
  • seek immediate medical attention if you become unwell while taking an alternative medicine
  • be careful about products brought into New Zealand as ‘personal imports’ by travellers.

Indoor shooting

Indoor shooting is sometimes associated with raised blood lead levels. It is particularly important not to carry lead home on your body and clothing if you will be in contact with pregnant women or young children.

Casting of lead bullets, fish sinkers and diving weights, and lead smelting

Some amateur fishermen, shooters and divers like to make their own weights and bullets.  If you do this, you need to be very careful about your lead exposure, as the processes release lead into the environment, often in small spaces, such as your shed or garage. Hobby activities like stained glass panel making and car repair are also potentially risky.

Occupational exposure, such as stripping lead-based paints

Lead poisoning is common among people who strip paint for a living, such as from houses and industrial structures. Employers are expected to have preventative measures in place.  If not, speak to them, or Worksafe, about this.

ARPHS’ health protection staff provide advice to enquirers and notified cases about lead and other hazardous substances.

For non-work related notifications, ARPHS will investigate the source of lead poisoning and provide advice.


There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

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Last updated 29.11.2018

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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