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I just went camping and someone brought a game from Australia. There was a wooden box with the top made of a thin, soft sheet of lead with a hole in it. The participants then throw coins at the box, and getting the coin inside gives some points, while landing a coin on top gives a little less. I've been looking online, and I think the game is called "Toad in the hole".

I know that lead is toxic, but I don't know in what way. Is it toxic to touch this lead sheet? And to eat afterwards without washing hands?

Maybe lead is only toxic in some form?

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  • $\begingroup$ Children used to play with models of soldiers made of lead, so … $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Mar 1, 2017 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @madsskjern How did you know that the sheet was made of lead and not some other metal? $\endgroup$
    – Prem
    Mar 26, 2018 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ First of all, that is what they told me. And it seemed like lead, it was heavy and soft and had the color of lead. I have bo reason to believe it was not :) $\endgroup$ Apr 2, 2018 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan On its own, that doesn't mean anything. Children may have also received lead poisoning after playing with lead soldiers. $\endgroup$
    – Clonkex
    Jun 26, 2023 at 0:52

2 Answers 2

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No, it is not toxic to touch solid lead. Lead poisoning results from

  • ingestion: paints used to contain lead-based materials, and kids would sometimes eat the peeling paint leading to health problems.
  • inhalation: if you were grinding or polishing a block of lead and fine particles were generated, you might inhale them if you weren't using the proper protective equipment and health problems could develop.
  • dermal contact: if you were working with organic lead compounds that were easily absorbed through the skin, serious health problems would result if you weren't using the proper protective equipment. Gasoline used to contain lead compounds, but they were removed from gasoline in order to prevent problems.

Being around or touching solid lead would not lead to ingestion, inhalation or dermal contact issues.

Here's a link to Wikipedia article on lead, see the section on "Health effects" if you'd like to read more or read about the biochemical mechanism of action.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. Wikipedia writes: "As lead paint deteriorates, it peels, is pulverized into dust and then enters the body through hand-to-mouth contact or through contaminated food, water or alcohol". Those quantities in the paint are probably very small, but still dangerous. Then imagine throwing coins at a sheet of lead. Is there really no part of the lead sheet that breaks free as lead dust / lead particles? Such particles would also end up in the carpet or atmosphere, like the lead from the paint. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2014 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ If you did it all day, every day for the rest of your life, there might be a problem. You were probably a couple of feet away which makes inhalation even less likely. I just can't see a one-time event like this being significant. Look at all the folks who pumped leaded gasoline for years and they seem to be OK. $\endgroup$
    – ron
    Sep 8, 2014 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ Just to be safe, I'd wash your hands after handling the lead. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Oct 14, 2014 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ @MadsSkjern: I know it's an old comment, but I'd just like to clarify that lead paints used lead compounds as pigments, and thus contained a significant fraction of lead. For example, this page says that "[p]aints made before 1950 contained large amounts of lead. In fact, some paint made in the 1940s contained up to 50% lead by dry weight." $\endgroup$ Dec 3, 2016 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @JAB: Given that the lead in the paint is present as a compound (e.g. an oxide), I'm not sure that's a very meaningful question. You might as well ask how much of the volume of table salt consists of sodium and how much of chlorine. I suppose one could interpret it as "what would be the volume (at STP) of a chunk of pure metallic lead with the same mass as the total lead content of 1 volume unit of dry lead paint?" which would be at least in principle answerable, if one had a figure for the density of the paint (which, alas, I don't have). $\endgroup$ Dec 4, 2016 at 17:13
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While merely touching lead is probably not directly dangerous, lead, being soft, probably remains on fingers after handling and therefore washing hands before eating, etc. is necessary after such handling.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd be interested to see a source for this. "Probably remains on fingers" sounds like speculation. $\endgroup$
    – Clonkex
    Jun 26, 2023 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Clonkex Not much chance to get response from a guy who's not around for more than five years... He meant some trace amounts - it's not like you're gonna get your hands dirty with it, but better safe then sorry. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Sep 20, 2023 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithoron Possibly, but I'm commenting on the post more than responding to the author. While I definitely do wash my hands after handling lead (better safe than sorry, as you say), without a source this answer is just speculation and should be a comment rather than an answer. It's not really useful to just repeat common beliefs or assumptions unless you can back it up with evidence to show those beliefs are justified. $\endgroup$
    – Clonkex
    Sep 20, 2023 at 22:57

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