Lead has been used for centuries and identified as a poison for almost as long. Modern artist pigments, solder, casting lead, ceramic glazes, glass paints, welding auto body parts or grinding older painted wood may all expose artists. Lead calls for stringent precautions – or plain avoidance.
Poisoning from lead white pigment is blamed for the “painter’s colic” common to professional artists in times past. Lead is absorbed like calcium and spread throughout the body. Lead poisoning can result in anemia and severely damage the kidneys, central nervous system, and male and female reproductive systems. Relatively small exposures can lead to nerve damage, coma, and death. Irreversible developmental harm from chronic lead poisoning compelled the bans on leaded gasoline and house paint.
Work-related exposure to lead is strictly regulated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). California’s Prop 65 listed lead as a reproductive toxin in 1987 and as a carcinogen in 1992.
(Note: The so-called “lead” in pencils is really graphite, a safe form of carbon.)