Could being in close proximity to my studio cause lead poisoning in a kid?

I’m looking for a little advice or information or reassurance from any parent/printers out there.
I share a studio with my best friend. The studio is two rooms, she has one and I have the other for my letterpress shop. It holds two platen presses and quite a large amount of type in cabinets. To get to her room she has to pass through mine. She does illustration and photography.
She brings her 15 month old son to the studio and has been for 9 months or so. He has his own play area in her room and rarely comes into my side, even more rarely when not being held by someone so he doesn’t get into anything. I’ve ways tried to be careful not to drop any type and to vacuum often
In case the little man does come through.
Her child was tested for lead this week and his levels are high.
She is unsure if its from a. The studio. B. him chewing on the windowsill in their apartment. Or c. Her husband works rehabbing old buildings which potentially contain lead.

Just looking anything to go on from here, I feel horrible that my work could potentially be what caused his high levels. I’ve read a lot of articles and it seems like lead poisoning is pretty rare in printers who are safe in thei practices but I can’t find much info on kids and ‘lead’ type.

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There are lead test kits available in most hardware stores.
My suggestion is to buy one and test all the woodwork where they live. If nothing else that will eliminate one possible source.

If I had to pull an answer out of the air, “C” sounds most likely to be the cause. It is amazing the amount of dust and chips that you can carry back home after working on a old house.

Laundry with extra rinse is recommended for work clothes separated from all other clothes, at least that is what the Iowa Lead Safe training program teaches.


While anything is possible and you should check over your studio space carefully to make sure there aren’t any potential danger spots, I think you aren’t likely to be the source. Lead is primarily dangerous when ingested, either via mouth or nose. Are you regularly casting slugs or type in your studio or cutting lead slugs on a Hammond or anything else like those that might create lead dust or fumes in the air? This could perhaps produce heightened levels of lead in the people nearby. Is the child finding pieces of type to handle? If the child is either putting pieces of type or lead-coated fingers in it’s mouth, that could also do it. Outside of those possibilities, I don’t really see another route for lead to enter the child in a letterpress shop.

One thing you might do to see if lead might be a problem in your studio would be to get yourself tested. If you also have elevated levels of lead you may have a problem somewhere.

But overall, I’d agree with Marshall. I’d think your studio is the least likely source.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Christina, it’s unlikely that even close proximity to your type and presses would cause elevated lead levels. You’d have to actually ingest quite a quantity of type to make that happen.

I do speak from a little experience here…I bring my 6 month old to work (in my lead-filled printshop) with me every day. I had my levels tested during pregnancy, and they were on the low end of normal. So far my babe’s levels are just fine, too!

Were the child’s Pb levels high for the district, or high compared to the national average Pb levels / recommended Pb levels?

If the former then it suggests a wider environmental issue in the district. Urban dwellers generally have higher Pb levels than rural dwellers. Are you in an urban / suburban or rural area?

A true story……..

A buddy of mine with a trophy shop has his Ludlow running daily. He had an employee who did much of the casting, etc. This employee found out he had lead poisoning and was going to sue for compensation and all. In the process, the Health Department showed up to do lead readings in his shop. Low and behold they found barely discernible readings.
Turned out in the end that the guy had been stripping lead paint in his apartment over a period of time and that was the source.
I’d say that as long as the wee one isn’t sucking or chewing on the stuff and isn’t stirring his coffee with it, he’s ok with respects to your studio…..cheers….db

For many years printers have consumed gallons and gallons of alcoholic beverages, smoked tons of tobacco, cigars, chewed regular or mint flavored tobacco, ingested snuff in their noses, used drugs, and now they’re concerned with the effects of lead!
I’d been born at home, which housed a Kelsey Junior Press and several cases of Copperplate Gothic, etc. Been at the printing trade all my life, washing presses with gasoline, benzene, and scrubbing copper engravings with lye and carbon tetrachloride. Oh yes, the familiar words on Ludlow sticks: ‘WASH IN GASOLENE WEEKLY.” How about putting the small potatoe on the ladle and submerging it in the big cauldron pot and stirring it to the bottom to bring up all the smoke and impurities (dross) in the metal? Then skimming it up with a slotted ladle to put it in a small drum to send to Imperial Metals in Chicago, for reclaiming. Yes, I must admit I knew two printers who died from lead. It was in the bullets they shot themselves with.
Plenty of fresh air, no food in the composing room, wash your hands before handling your lunch. Now we have, in this day and age of all this technology: non-toxic, water base press wash, photopolymer plates, California wash. air conditioning, and how about soy-base ink? Now your shop and the dumpster back of your shop/studio can smell like an Oriental restaurant!
Stan, Ye Crabby-@rse-olde man

Soy inks contain an oil that is derived from soy beans, and was developed during the gas shortages of the late 1970s and early 80s, so the industry could keep moving forward. It is not really earth friendly in that it still uses the same mineral pigments that other inks do, as well as chemical additives and driers. Soy-based oils are included in most of the inks we use today, and account for the high gloss that inks suffer from today.

California Wash is also not a ‘green’ product. The Varn company attached the name, and for some odd reason attaching the name “California” to a product is supposed to make it safer (it has actually been banned in several California counties because of its cancer producing ingredients). Water-missable press washes can be more polluting than conventional press washes.

People want to laugh about it, but rather than blindly accepting some company’s sales pitch why don’t you all, as printers and consumers, become aware of the chemicals you are handling and read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that are available online for these products.

Thank you to everyone who responded.
To my knowledge the little guy has never found a piece of type and I don’t touch him when my hands are dirty and inky.
She’s meeting with a physician on Friday, I’m not sure about rural vs urban levels. But he was a 7 on the scale , 5 is ‘normal’ for children and 10 is dangerous. Needless to say my friend is terrified if it get higher it could cause learning issues, as am I.
It is reassuring to hear that our studio is unlikely the cause and I hope that’s the case.

“…he was a 7 on the scale , 5 is ‘normal’ for children and 10 is dangerous.”

Recommend finding out the weights of Pb (probably micrograms) per unit volume of blood and reading up a little. A very quick google threw up this page: which states:

“What Abnormal Results Mean: Adults who have been exposed to lead should have blood lead levels below 40 micrograms/dL. Treatment is recommended if:

•You have symptoms of lead poisoning
•Your blood lead level is greater than 60 micrograms/dL.

In children:

•Blood lead level of 10 micrograms/dL or greater requires further testing and monitoring.
•The source of lead must be found and removed.
•A lead level greater than 45 micrograms/dL in a child’s blood usually indicates the need for treatment.
•Treatment may be considered with a level as low as 20 micrograms/dL.”

I wonder if the figures of 7 and 10 you were given refer to micrograms per decilitre (100 ml or 1/10 of a litre)? They accord with roughly 4 micrograms /dL being normal for urban children (see this study of 300,000 Detroit children:

It would be useful to access Pb data for the child’s neighbours of similar age, and their schoolmates. If all have similar Pb levels then its likely that there is a wider environmental issue. Alternatively, if the child’s Pb levels are significantly higher than their peers then a Pb audit of home environment seems indicated.

Comments upthread concerning adult exposure to workplace Pb are not directly relevant to childrens’ exposure to Pb - the literature makes clear that very low Pb exposure in children is detrimental to development and health, whereas rather higher levels appear to be acceptable for adults - e.g. the UK ‘action limit’ for workers occupationally exposed to lead is 40 micrograms/ dL (

I should emphasise that I am not a medical practitioner. Rather, my background is in geology and I have an interest in non-ferrous metallurgy. Whilst writing this email I worked out that I’ve spent around 350 days underground in lead mines over the last 30 years. My printing activities are occasional and are limited to hand composition; I do not run a caster.