Safety and first aid

Lead exposure and fishing gear

People who make or regularly handle lead fishing sinkers or lures made with lead have an increased risk of lead exposure.

Lead particles can settle on the skin of a person’s hands and body or be transferred to the skin when a person handles fishing equipment that contains lead. If hands are not washed well before drinking, eating, smoking, or preparing food, lead can be transferred to the mouth and ingested via contaminated foods, drinks or smoking devices.

Lead can also enter the body through swallowing or breathing in lead particles, as dusts and fumes, when making or modifying sinkers.

If taken into the body, lead will build up and remain in soft tissues and bones for long periods. Even at low concentrations lead can impact several key systems of the body. Therefore, it is important to minimise exposure to protect yourself and your family by following the advice provided.

How can I be exposed to lead through fishing?

There are several ways that a person can be exposed to lead through fishing and angling activities.

  • Handling lead sinkers and lures that contain lead (e.g. squid jigs and lead head jigs)
  • Biting the knot to secure the sinker or lure on a fishing line
  • Melting lead to produce fishing sinkers
  • Lead particles from fishing equipment may contaminate tackle boxes, workbenches, and tables, or inside vehicles used to transport equipment
  • Accidental ingestions of fishing sinkers or lures. This is of most concern for children.

Young children often place objects in their mouth and suck their fingers, which makes them more vulnerable to lead exposure. They are also much more sensitive to the effects of lead as they grow and develop.

What are the health effects of lead exposure?

Symptoms of lead exposure can be difficult to recognise. Consult your GP or doctor if lead exposure is suspected.

Some of the effects of ongoing exposure to low levels of lead can include:

  • general fatigue
  • headaches
  • anaemia
  • blood circulation problems
  • weakness in the fingers, wrists and ankles
  • reduced fertility
  • reduced kidney function
  • impaired brain development in children.

Although very rare in Australia, the absorption of very high levels of lead (>70 micrograms per decilitre of blood) into the body is considered a clinical emergency and symptoms can include:

  • convulsions
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • loss of consciousness and even death.
What steps can I take to reduce my lead exposure?

The tips below should be followed to reduce exposure and minimise contact with lead fumes and dusts.

  • Keep fishing equipment out of reach of young children.
  • Always supervise children when fishing, and ensure they understand that lead fishing tackle is poisonous.
  • Do not let children handle sinkers or lures that are made of or contain lead.
  • Never put lead sinkers in your mouth or lips.
  • Never bite sinkers to close them or to break fishing line.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling lead objects.
  • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water after handling lead sinkers or lures.
  • Consider using non-lead fishing sinkers and lures.
Making your own lead fishing sinkers or lures

If you make your own lead fishing sinkers or lures, consider the following.

  • Establish a well-ventilated work area – preferably outdoors.
  • Do not work near the kitchen or food preparation areas, home-grown garden vegetables or fruits, or in living areas used by other household members.
  • If working indoors, make sure there is a ventilation exhaust directing fumes away from the work area to the outside of the building and directed away from any sensitive areas around the property (as above) or neighbouring properties.
  • Do not use a portable fan as it will disperse lead particles throughout the air around the room.
  • Ensure work surfaces are easy to clean (hard, flat, and non-porous) without mats or carpets.
  • Keep women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or may become pregnant, and children away from the work area.
  • Regularly clean all surfaces in the work area by wet wiping using disposable cloths, mopping or vacuuming with a commercial Class H vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. Take extra care when disposing the waste from buckets and vacuums so as not to inhale or contact the contents. Do not dry sweep.
  • Wear gloves and a properly fitted respirator mask with an appropriate filter for the activity that meets Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1716). A disposable or reusable Class P2 half face respirator (particulate filter for dust and fumes) is commonly used.
How can I get tested for lead exposure?

Discuss any concerns you have with your medical practitioner/doctor.

Confirmation of elevated lead levels is usually through a blood test. If the blood lead level is greater than 5 micrograms per decilitre (μg/dL), the source of lead exposure should be investigated and reduced.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning
  • For information on exposure at work contact WorkSafe Customer Help Centre on 1300 307 877 or to report an incident call 1800 678 198
  • Contact the Environmental Health Directorate by calling (08) 9222 2000 or emailing

Last reviewed: 16-01-2024

Public Health