What is it?

Lead (known as Pb and number 82 on the periodic table) is a naturally occurring metal found in the environment.  

What is it used for?

Lead is used in plumbing, batteries, metal pipes and solder, paints, ceramic products, stained glass production and health care products. 

Where do we find it?

Lead can be found in chipped, lead-based paint in older homes; in food through environmental contamination such as fossil fuel burning, mining, and manufacturing; and in drinking water mostly through pipe leaching, but also through earth deposits into well water.   

Why is there concern?

Lead can accumulate in the body and affect the brain and nervous system; children are especially susceptible to chronic exposure to lead.  Recent media reports have highlighted concern regarding lead exposure from food consumption.

Is it safe? What is the safe level of use?

The EPA has determined lead to be a “probable human carcinogen” and has set an action level for drinking water at 15 parts per billion (ppb).1 In 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set the following Provisional Tolerable Total Dietary Intake level (PTTDI):  6 micrograms/day (µg/day) for children under six; 15 µg/day for children seven and older; 25 µg/day for pregnant women; and 75 µg/day for adults.2 A lead risk assessment by EFSA estimated the average lead dietary exposure for the average European adult consumer ranges from 0.36 to 1.24 µg/kg body weight per day.3 Since 1991, The FDA monitors the levels of lead in food through its Total Diet Study.4  

What is being done?

Lead use in gasoline, paint, solder, electronics and other materials have been reduced or eliminated in an effort to reduce consumer exposure.2 In an effort to safeguard young children, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors children’s blood levels of lead.5 Additionally, FDA continues to monitor the U.S. food supply for levels of lead. 


FDA works with the food industry to limit lead exposure through food, especially to children.  For example, in 2006 FDA reduced its allowable level of lead in candy.  Additionally, FDA has established an Import Alert for certain dried fruits found to contain lead.  FDA continues to work to limit exposure to lead for different foods.6

Referenced sources for Lead:

1 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=93&tid=22

2 http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/03/Sept03/091503/77N-0094I-c000005-06-tab4-vol8.pdf

3 http://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/scientific_output/files/main_documents/1570.pdf

4 http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/TotalDietStudy/ucm184232.htm

5 http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/data/index.htm

6 https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm2006791.htm

For more information contact the FMI Center for Retail Food Safety and Defense@202.220.0661/glee@fmi.org