Are Clay-based Toothpastes a Potential Lead Exposure Risk?

Lead is present in clay-based toothpaste, and Cornucopia recommends shoppers educate themselves about potential health risks.

Clay has been used for hundreds of years as a cleanser/detoxifying agent, and is used to remove heavy metals in animals and humans. Heavy metal ions adsorb (bind) tightly to clay particulates, which are too big to go through the oral mucosa or the intestinal walls. Clay binds to any lead that is naturally present, readily passes through the body, and is normally evacuated.

Source: Sean Donohue

This remains an important topic, as children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, and there are many possible sources of lead that can contribute to their exposure.

Old paint is probably the number one cause of lead exposure. Lead-based paint was banned in the United States in 1978, but many older houses still have it underneath layers of newer paint. In addition, the soil around older houses may be contaminated with lead from chipped or peeling paint; this is more an issue in urban areas where many older homes are likely to be in close proximity. The demolition of older houses in urban areas is an important cause of lead contamination in the surrounding soil.

Soil itself contains background levels of lead, which is, after all, a naturally occurring mineral. Depending on the composition of the soil (percentage of clay), the lead may be more or less bioavailable. However, when lead from old paint is added to the natural lead already present, levels can get exceedingly high. This is critical where children are present, as they are likely to play with dirt and put their hands in their mouths.

Many sources of lead potentially contaminate our environment, including water, toys, dinnerware and older glazed pottery, playgrounds, and even root vegetables.

Lead has a 45-day half-life in our bodies, and iron- and calcium-rich foods greatly help the body process and eliminate lead. If we are calcium deficient, lead is taken up into our bones.

Based on published research (cited at the bottom of this page), there appear to be more benefits than serious risks of lead exposure when using toothpastes such as Earthpaste or Poofy Organics. However, weighing this risk is a personal decision. An organic coconut-based toothpaste is also highly rated in Cornucopia’s scorecard, and is obviously an alternative to clay-based toothpastes.

It is worth noting that the FDA has warned about the use of some specific brands of clay.  None of these warnings are for toothpaste, but are instead for clays marketed for ingestion that were specifically tested and found to be high in lead.

Additional Resources:

References:

“Adsorption of Aflatoxin B1 on Montmorillonite.”
Poultry Science, 2005; 84:959–961.

“Use of Clay Mineral (Montmorillonite) For Reducing Poultry Litter Leachate Toxicity (EC50).”
Journal Of Hazardous Materials. 2005; 118(1-3):81-3.

“Effects of Montmorillonite On Pb Accumulation, Oxidative Stress, and DNA Damage In Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) Exposed To Dietary Pb.”.
Biological Trace Element Research. 2010; 136(1):71-8.

“Effect of Montmorillonite Superfine Composite On Growth Performance and Tissue Lead Level In Pigs.”
Biological Trace Element Research. 2008; 125(3):229-35.

“Effect of Quaternary Ammonium Cation Loading and pH On Heavy Metal Sorption To Ca Bentonite and Two Organobentonites”.
Journal of Hazardous Materials. 2006; 137(2):1102-1114

“Adsorbent for adsorption of heavy metals in waste water”
Patent Abstract: US 20130037488 A1

“Process for the removal of heavy metals from aqueous systems using organoclays”
Patent Abstract: US 5667694 A

“Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents”
International Geology Review. 2010 Jul 1; 52(7/8): 745–770.

“Removal of lead from wastewater by adsorption using acid-activated clay.”
Environmental Technology. 2012 Jan-Feb;33(1-3):291-7.

“Simultaneous sorption of lead and chlorobenzene by organobentonite.”
Chemosphere. 2002 Dec;49(10):1309-15.