updated 1/28/2008 9:18:35 AM ET 2008-01-28T14:18:35

The dangers of lead in some toys are well-known, but there are plenty of other ways people can be exposed to the metal.

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Young children are especially at risk of harm because their bodies are growing quickly. They can suffer damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and other problems.

In adults, excessive lead exposure can lead to problems in reproduction, high blood pressure, memory and concentration problems and other effects.

Levels of lead in the air have plunged since the late 1970s with the removal of lead from gasoline. Today, most lead in the air comes from industrial plants, and it’s a problem chiefly in urban and industrialized areas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

Other potential sources:

  • Deteriorating lead paint can produce lead dust and chips that children swallow. The federal government banned lead paint from housing in 1978, but older homes may have it.
  • Soil can become contaminated and be carried indoors.
  • Drinking water can pick up lead from pipes or solder in older homes. Consumers can ask their local health departments or water suppliers about having water tested.
  • Traces of lead can be brought home on hands or clothes from jobs that involve working with the metal. The federal government recommends that workers in such jobs shower and change clothes before going home, and wash work clothes separately.
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed containers may pick up the metal.
  • Some folk remedies contain lead.
  • Lead is used in some hobbies, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.

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