Lead poisoning

Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning. This can cause serious health issues.

Exposure to lead paint is a leading cause of lead poisoning in children and adults. Infants and preschool children in contact with flaking paint or lead-contaminated dust or soil are particularly at risk of developing lead poisoning.

National Public Health Service (NPHS) - Northern Region provides advice to the public on lead and many other hazardous substances.

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

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 can include:

  • mood changes (such as depression or irritability)
  • memory loss
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches
  • tingling and numbness in the fingers and hands.

Other symptoms can 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

NPHS - Northern Region 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.

It's recommende people who buy alternative medicine products:

  • only purchase medicines where the contents are clearly listed and known to be safe
  • do not buy Ayurvedic and other alternative medicines over the internet
  • 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 you may 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.


Exposure to lead while at work

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 to protect against this. Further information is available from Worksafe.

NPHS - Northern Regions’ health protection staff provide advice to enquirers and notified cases about lead and other hazardous substances.

For non-work related notifications, NPHS - Northern Region 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 25.3.2024

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