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Safe Handling Concerns with Metal and Lead Based Miniatures

Avoiding Problems with Lead in Metal Miniatures

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Is There Lead In My Miniature?

Across the miniatures hobby there are a wide range of metal miniatures in finished, unfinished and kit form. Unless you have purchased a miniature specifically labelled lead free or you know the metal your miniature is made from (pure brass, copper or lead free pewter) your metal miniature may contain a proportion of lead. This can come from solder used to hold the miniature together, or from the alloy (mixture of metals) from which the miniature is made. White metal alloys can contain lead unless they are labelled as lead free. Wherever possible purchase miniatures which are labelled lead free.

Lead based alloys are common in older antique and vintage toys and miniatures, as well as in some modern miniature gaming figures and decorative dolls house miniatures. Antique pewter miniatures may also contain a proportion of lead. Lead also is found in lead shot and fishing weights, which may have been used to balance small handcrafted miniatures.

Are Lead Based Alloy's Safe to Handle?

Lead enters the human body through ingestion or inhalation. It doesn't travel through your skin, but lead left on your hands can transfer to food and into your mouth if you don’t wash your hands after handling unpainted miniatures with lead content. Lead dust created by filing, trimming or drilling metal miniatures can be inhaled, or may be ingested after the dust settles on objects you handle or on your food.

Once sealed and painted, lead based miniatures are safe to handle. You should ensure that metal miniatures are not accessible to or handled by children who may place toys in their mouths. Make a practice of washing your hands after any sessions of play involving handling of metal miniatures, even painted ones.

Working Safely with Metal Miniatures

To ensure you do not inadvertently contaminate yourself or your family with lead, there are some safe handling practices you should follow when working with metal miniatures (or lead based alloy gaming figures).

Safety practices to follow with metal miniatures:

Lead presents a much larger danger to young children than it does to adults. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and the parents of toddlers should postpone working with lead based miniatures until their children are older.

If the alloy is not directly labelled as lead free, assume it may contain lead and handle it with appropriate precautions. These precautions are mainly methods to reduce the amount of dust, and to ensure traces of lead are not transferred to food or items which you might place in your mouth.

  • Keep all unpainted metal miniatures away from children. Allow children to handle painted metal miniatures only if you are certain the child will not place metal miniatures in their mouth. (this includes old or vintage die cast cars, boats and vehicles).
  • Work on unsealed metal miniatures in a dirty area removed from the living areas of your house. If metal miniatures are your main interest, ideally this area should be kept locked when not in use. To reduce the possibilities of contaminated dust, work in a cleared area where everything other than your unfinished metal miniatures is behind closed doors. This will make dust clean up easier. If you will be handling a limited number of metal miniatures for finishing only, you can create a workspace in a large cardboard box on a worktable well away from your living areas. Line the box with plastic, and keep all your activities with metal confined to this space. Remove and dispose of the plastic and any waste after each work session.
  • Wear protective clothing (old clothes, coveralls, gloves) which can be removed and left in the dedicated work area.
  • Never eat or smoke in the work area, wash your hands thoroughly with soap or an industrial cleaner after handling metal miniatures.
  • When modifying or cleaning metal miniatures of flash , especially when filing or drilling, set up a fan which will blow lead particles away from you while pulling in fresh air from behind your work area. Ideally, work in an area with an extractor fan.
  • Use a mask and gloves when filing or drilling. Clamp your metal miniature in a vise and wet the metal before working with knives, files or drills to minimize dust. Use hand drills to minimize dust particles.
  • Wipe down and clean all work areas and tool handles with dampened, disposable paper towels and soap after your work is finished. Do not vacuum (you may spread the dust). Keep any metal traces, dust and contaminated cleaning supplies (dirty paper towels)in a sealed garbage bag and dispose of them through the appropriate disposal system. (in other words don't put them in your household trash)
  • Wash any clothing which has been in a lead environment separately from your regular wash, and run the washing machine through on a cleaning cycle (with soap) before washing your regular clothing. (This is why you use a set of coveralls or old clothes over the clothes you wear, to minimize the dust and possible contamination of your clothes with minor amounts of lead)

Note The vast majority of problems with lead comes from contamination caused by old lead paint on houses, lead pollution from leaded gas (removed from the market in the US in 1996), or lead contamination of paint or jewellery on children's toys imported from countries without regulations of these products. To protect your heath when working with any hobby (including wood or plastics and some art materials) you should avoid inhaling all forms of dust and clean your hands and tools thoroughly, keeping them separate from food and tools used with food.

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