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May 1, 2024


Global Study Exposes High Lead Levels in Consumer Products Across Multiple Cities in 25 Countries

New York, NY — A landmark study published in Scientific Reports, conducted by Pure Earth and an international team of researchers, reveals alarming levels of lead contamination in consumer products across 25 low- and middle-income countries. Rapid Market Screening to assess lead concentrations in consumer products across 25 low- and middle-income countries used an innovative screening methodology to analyze and assess lead concentrations in thousands of commonly used consumer goods.

Purchased from 382 shopping venues in 86 cities, a total of 5,007 products were tested during the study, encompassing a variety of consumer goods such as metal and ceramic foodware, cosmetics, toys, and various types of paints. This sampling, the largest and most diverse of its kind, was designed to provide initial insight into the potential lead exposure risks presented by everyday products in these regions.

“The scale of global childhood lead poisoning is staggering, and due to a lack of research in the most impacted countries, the sources of exposure affecting the majority of the world’s children have been poorly understood”, explains lead author, Dr. Aelita Sargsyan. “This research aims to improve our understanding of home-based exposure sources and advance the ability of all actors to implement solutions. In addition to sources found in homes, children may also be exposed through polluted soil, used lead acid battery recycling, and other industrial sources.”


The screening revealed that nearly 20% of samples exceeded lead reference levels across a variety of products, notably: 

  • Metal foodware: 51% of these products contained lead exceeding the reference level of 100 parts per million (ppm).  
  • Ceramic foodware:  45% contained lead levels exceeding 100 ppm.
  • Paints: 41% of samples contained lead concentrations above the regulatory limit of 90 ppm, despite existing laws against lead use in paints.
  • Toys:  13% of products tested above the reference level of 100 ppm.
  • Cosmetics: While 12% of cosmetics contained lead concentrations above the regulatory limit, certain traditional eyeliners showed extremely high lead concentrations, posing severe health risks.

Of particular concern were the high concentrations of lead found in metal cookware, which in South East Asia included 70% of samples over the reference limit. The lead that leaches out of these pots contaminates food, though exactly how much depends on a range of case-specific factors. 

“An unexpected finding was the prevalence of lead-contaminated aluminum cooking pots.  These pots made with mixed scrap metal are ubiquitous”, Dr. Gordon Binkhorst explained. “As the field research teams found more and more of them, I worked with co-author Barbara Jones to evaluate leaching of lead from these pots into cooked foods, and the potential impact on blood lead levels in children. The results will be published later this year.”

The findings indicate a widespread public health risk, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where regulatory oversight may be lacking. The study advocates for enhanced regulatory frameworks and targeted public health interventions to mitigate lead exposure risks, especially among vulnerable populations such as children.

Study Locations:  

The research was conducted in cities across 25 countries, encompassing diverse economic and geographic regions: the study covered 27 locations, including Armenia;

Azerbaijan; Bangladesh; Bolivia; Colombia; Egypt; Georgia; Ghana; the Indian states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh; Indonesia; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Mexico; Nepal; Nigeria; Pakistan; Peru; the Philippines; Tajikistan; Tanzania; Tunisia; Turkey; Uganda; and Vietnam.

Emily Nash, co-author says, “This research contributes significant new insights into the global distribution of lead in consumer products and underscores the urgent need for coordinated international efforts to address this pervasive environmental health challenge.”


Using the Rapid Market Screening protocol pioneered by the Pure Earth team, investigators collected information about each market, vendor, and item, following a standardized analytical approach for each type of product. This allowed for fast and efficient lead detection in a diverse set of products in multiple countries, demonstrating the method’s applicability for large-scale environmental health surveys.

Investigators used portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers for immediate on-site product testing, complemented by confirmatory inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis in U.S. laboratories. This approach ensured accurate, reliable data on lead content in a wide range of consumer products.


This study reveals the high lead exposure risk of consumer products in low- and middle-income countries, especially from ceramic and metal foodware and lead-based paints. Existing national and international measures to eliminate these risks are either absent or insufficient, underscoring the urgent need for enhanced regulatory oversight and public health interventions, particularly in vulnerable populations such as children.

That so many consumer products contain significant amounts of lead poses a clear global public health risk, as lead from these products exposes pregnant women, infants, children, adolescents and adults. Because so few countries conduct surveys of children’s blood lead levels, there is little visibility into the prevalence, severity, and geographic distribution of lead poisoning for many lower-income nations.

“The pervasive nature of lead contamination we uncovered is startling. This is not just a local issue but a global issue that demands immediate and decisive action to safeguard public health, states Prof. Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, the study’s environmental health expert. “Low- and middle-income countries don’t have the financial means to really investigate lead exposure sources  in their countries, nor do they have the means to diagnose and treat this kind of condition. A global strategy to prevent and reduce lead exposure for children is urgently needed.” 


Although this screening effort encompassed sampling from the widest range of consumer product types and geographies to date, budgetary and logistical constraints limited the sample size for products.  In some instances, there are only a few samples of a certain product type for a specific country. From each country, three or four geographically diverse major cities were selected. These findings should not be considered definitive for a country or region or globally, but provide indications of potential sources of concern and hotspots geographically where supply chains do not effectively regulate for lead contamination.

Data availability:

The RMS dataset supporting the conclusions of this article is) available in the Zenodo repository under and


About Pure Earth:  

Established in 1999, Pure Earth is a pioneer in developing evidence-based solutions to mercury and lead poisoning and pollution.  Guided by our commitment to transparency, collaboration, impact measurement and technical excellence, Pure Earth works with partners around the world to sustainably address the root causes of lead pollution and mercury pollution.

Pure Earth prioritizes actions to protect the developing brains and bodies of children and pregnant women living in toxic hot spots. We work to stop the multigenerational cycle of poisoning that is endemic in many low- and middle-income countries.


Note to journalists:

Pure Earth published a white paper on this project, Lead in Consumer Goods: A 25 Country Analysis of Lead (Pb) Levels in 5,000+ Products and Foods, in September 2023.  Subsequently, the paper was prepared for peer-review publication.  Additional information, infographic, video, summaries can be found on this project page.

Pure Earth established a Lead in Cookware Working Group in January 2024 to address the critical issue of lead contamination in metallic cookware and other consumer goods.

Pure Earth country offices have also started studies of aluminum cookware at educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, India, Accra, Ghana and Jakarta, Indonesia.


Media contact:

For further information, to schedule interviews, and for comments from the research team, please contact Angela Bernhardt at [email protected]