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I have some pieces of lead ($\ce{Pb}$) at home. I keep them in a box in the closet and never touch them.

  • Can it be harmful?
  • Should I throw them away?

I would like to keep them, but I am not certain about their toxicity.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/16054/… $\endgroup$ – getafix Dec 3 '16 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ Yes they can be harmful if you lick them, or if you handle them and then handle your food. Otherwise, feel free to keep them. There are no toxic gases, that's for sure. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Dec 3 '16 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ Are children around? $\endgroup$ – mcocdawc Dec 3 '16 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @mcocdawc No, we don't have any children at home. I've packed them in a box and are out of reach, I've found them at a mine, and they are really beautiful and metallic, there isn't any dust and they are like small clods. $\endgroup$ – BugHunter Dec 4 '16 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Aref You packed your children in a box? ;-) $\endgroup$ – matt_black Dec 8 '16 at 9:53
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Metallic lead is very low risk.

Lead compounds are fairly poisonous: they slowly build up in the body and cause many harmful effects. But lead metal is very inert and you would need to do something fairly risky with it to create much likleihood of generating dangerous lead compounds.

Don't eat it, for example. Don't put it in contact with food (especially acidic foods which can solubilise lead). But normal handling should not be a problem.

Lead is so inert that it has been used to pipe clean water supplies to people for most of history (or at least the parts of history where somebody had access to clean water). This is safe unless the water supply is particularly acidic and leaches lead from the pipes.

In short: don't worry about lumps of lead.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer. Any metallic looking lead is lower risk (not zero but way down there). What you need to be careful of is any powdery surface coatings that appear. These may be white, yellow, red or other colours. These are various lead salts and some are more soluble and more toxic than others. Moisture and other reactive substances in contact are the biggest cause, damp wood, vinegar or other chemicals should be kept away. Kept dry in plastic containers should pose little risk. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Dec 3 '16 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ As a letterpress operator, I'd add "Avoid breathing lead dust, of any color." As an electronics tech I'd also add "or breathing more fumes of molten lead than you must." $\endgroup$ – keshlam Dec 4 '16 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ And remember the problems with lead in Flint's water pipes was due to some acidic water, they had been fine before they switched water supplies. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 4 '16 at 5:36
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I used to handle lead every day without gloves -- solder spatters, lead shot for casting, handling those cast lead pieces, cutting and installing lead foil for shielding scientific instruments, etc. A few years ago I took a bit of time to evaluate my work area and habits. I was concerned that my habits were getting careless. I decided to clean things up and make an effort to not be so careless. I also had my blood tested, so I something to measure. I went to my doctor and told him my concerns. He sent me to have a blood test for heavy metals. The results came back showing my levels to be quite low (If I recall correctly, they tested specifically for lead and mercury and cadmium, and some others, I think, but don't recall). At any rate, blood levels don't necessarily reflect the total amount of heavy metals carried by the body, but given that the tests were taken when my exposure was at a peak, and given that the results came back so low it seems that I didn't have anything to worry about.

That's just my story. I don't handle lead quite as often now, but I still handle it pretty regularly. I am not sure why you have any concern about the lead you handle. It sounds like you have nothing to worry about.

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