#QUESTION: Does kitty litter have Lead? ANSWER: Yes, it may – and if it does it’s a big problem. Here’s why…

Please scroll to the bottom of the post for some likely Lead-free kitty litter choices!

#AskTamara

QUESTION: Does kitty litter have Lead?

ANSWER: Yes, it may – and if it does it’s a big problem. Here’s why…

As you may know, I help families everywhere whose kiddos have been poisoned. There have been a few instances in which a child’s poisoning has been a mystery to health inspectors and others trying to find the source. In at least one of these cases, the family’s kitty litter turned out to be the most likely source of possible Lead dust exposure.

When I was trying to help that particular family, I tested several kitty litter brands that I purchased locally at a store in Portland, Oregon — but didn’t find any that tested positive for Lead. However, despite not finding a “smoking gun” (in the form of any high-level contamination (in that small test sample) I procured from a local store in my city), given the strong suspicion – based on all the other evidence in that case – I could not rule out their kitty litter as a possible source of exposure. As a result, I am always on the lookout for different types of kitty litter that I might not have tested.

On a recent trip to California, I came across a bag of “Scoop Away Low Dust! Complete Performance” brand kitty litter. This was in a home where a kiddo tested positive for a blood Lead level of 1.0 — which is low — but it seemed unusual, because there did not seem to be any other Lead hazards in the home as it had long ago been extensively renovated, and the mama had made consistently good choices for her home goods and personal items (this included newer vinyl windows, re-done floors, new Lead-free kitchen tiles, Lead-free furniture, Lead-safe or lead-free dishes and more.)

While it’s possible the kiddo was positive merely because he was in an urban environment, I want to be clear that the amount of Lead found in the dust in his cat’s kitty litter was high enough to be a likely source of his exposure.

I did several tests on this kitty litter using an XRF instrument, and here are two representative samples of the levels that I found:

To learn more about XRF testing, Click HERE.

Test One:
(60+ seconds)

  • Lead (Pb): 27 +/- 11 ppm (= a range of 16 to 38 ppm)
  • Barium (Ba): 162 +/- 46 ppm
  • Cadmium (Cd): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Arsenic (As): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Mercury (Hg): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Zinc (Zn): 66 +/- 20 ppm
  • Iron (Fe): 23,500 +/- 800 ppm
  • Bismuth (Bi): 22 +/- 10 ppm
  • Vanadium (V): 155 +/- 30 ppm
  • Titanium (Ti): 613 +/- 59 ppm

Test Two:
(90+ seconds)

  • Lead (Pb): 23 +/- 8 ppm (= a range of 15 to 31 ppm)
  • Barium (Ba): 247 +/- 33 ppm
  • Cadmium (Cd): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Arsenic (As): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Mercury (Hg): Non-Detect / Negative
  • Zinc (Zn): 47 +/- 13 ppm
  • Iron (Fe): 24,500 +/- 600 ppm
  • Bismuth (Bi): 29 +/- 8 ppm
  • Vanadium (V): 242 +/- 32 ppm
  • Titanium (Ti): 803 +/- 61 ppm
  • Indium (In): 15 +/- 7 ppm
  • Platinum (Pt): 59 +/- 27 ppm
  • Magnesium (Mn): 538 +/- 145 ppm

For context: The amount of Lead that is considered toxic in a modern item intended for use by children is anything 90 ppm Lead (or higher) in the paint or coating.

As a result, the amount of Lead found in this kitty litter might initially SEEM like a very low level of Lead — but given it is Lead already in DUST form – and given it is dust that is being tracked around by a cat who steps in it many times each day and then walks around the house, and the cat is played with by the baby (and has free reign to go on furniture and counter and anywhere in the house) , it is actually adds up to rather quite a LOT of potential Lead dust exposure to a small child who still spends most of his time playing on the floor!

Continue reading below the image…

Tamara, why is 27 ppm Lead “a lot of Lead” in this circumstance?

Here’s why this is a problem…

  1. Lead in dust on floors is considered toxic at levels that is far too low to be measured by an XRF instrument.
  2. The long-held Federal (U.S.) standard at which Lead was considered unsafe in house dust was “40 micrograms of Lead per square foot” and above. 
  3. The current updated recommendation (and, hopefully, the soon-to-be confirmed new Federal standard) is that Lead should be considered unsafe in an child’s environment when floor levels are at or above “10 micrograms of Lead dust per square foot.
  4. The scientific recommendation that is the most protective of children’s health [as cited by Dr. Bruce Lanphear in my documentary film] is actually that the hazard level for Lead found in floor dust should be set at “5 micrograms of Lead per square foot.

But Tamara, what does that MEAN exactly? What does 5, 10 or 40 micrograms of Lead per square foot LOOK LIKE? 

For context I offer the sugar packet analogy that so many scientists (including Howard Mielke) have shared with me over the years:

  1. Consider that an amount of Lead dust equal in volume to one little SUGAR PACKET if spread evenly across an area equal to the size of a football field would create a dust hazard level of about 38 micrograms of Lead per square foot!…
  2. Imagine a sugar packet’s worth of lead dust. 
  3. Now imagine the nearly impossible idea of that amount of dust spread evenly across the surface of an entire football field.
  4. Hopefully now you can visualize why the dust level that is considered toxic is not even detectable using an XRF instrument [to detect this type of hazard requires an even-more-sensitive laboratory digestive analysis of a carefully-collected dust-wipe sample]! [Click here for more information on testing the dust in your home: LINK.]
  5. The lead in the dust of this particular kitty litter sample (pictured here on this page) WAS well within even the much higher detection range of an XRF…so, by extrapolation, the cumulative dust level on floors as a result of the Lead level in that kitty litter could likely be MUCH higher than the current Federal standard (which is quite outdated and has been determined to not be protective of children’s health!) [That would be an interesting experiment to do sometime: spill some kitty litter out onto a floor, pick up all the visible debris and then collect a dust-wipe sample of that floor for lab analysis!]

So yes, SOME kitty litters (like this Scoop Away) DO have enough Lead in them to create a Lead dust hazard for small children (NOT TO MENTION CREATING A HAZARD FOR YOUR PETS).

Side note on pets: One of the more common impacts of Lead exposure (that has been well studied) is kidney failure. How many kitties do you know who have died of kidney failure? I have know quite a few.

Some links about kidney failure in kitties:

  1. Petfinder.com
  2. PetsWebMD
  3. Cornelle College of Veterinary Medicine

So what is the solution?

As usual, the solutions are simple and there are many options:

  1. Don’t use clay-based kitty litter.
  2. Don’t use any kind of clumping kitty litter that might have a clay ingredient.
  3. Use natural material kitty litter that is less likely to contain high levels of Lead. If you have choices for brands that you use that are likely to be Lead-free (based on 1 & 2 above) and are all natural, please share those with me and I will link them here. So far I have heard of the following (Note: I have not used any of these products and understand there can be drawbacks to each type, but the focus of my work is always to start by recommending Lead-free options]:
    • Pine Based Litter: LINK
    • Bamboo Based Litter: LINK
    • Recycled Newspaper Based Litter: LINK
  4. Consider having your cats “go” outside (I know this is a controversial choice – from the perspective of protectors of songbirds, but you can also put bell collars on your cats.) We have four outdoor rescue cats here at the Rubin Compound and have never used any kitty litter and we use pine-based litter for our indoor bunny.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts.

Please let me know if you have any questions at all.

Tamara Rubin
#LeadSafeMama

*Amazon links are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on one of my links I may receive a small percentage of what you spend at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my advocacy work in this way.

9 Responses to #QUESTION: Does kitty litter have Lead? ANSWER: Yes, it may – and if it does it’s a big problem. Here’s why…

  1. Sabrina December 2, 2018 at 10:38 am #

    Tamara,
    Thank you for this important revelation!
    Have you tested any of the Arm and Hammer brand of clumping kitty litter? It makes so much dust. I sincerely hope it’s not contaminated.

    • Tamara December 2, 2018 at 10:51 am #

      I haven’t tested that yet. I am going to create a post so folks can send me samples to test though. Maybe you could send me some (I will link that back here.) Thanks for commenting!
      -Tamara

      • Tara December 3, 2018 at 11:10 am #

        Would love to know as we use the arm and hammer brand. Thank you!!

  2. Victoria Pulcini December 3, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    Is there a list of kitty litter that do have lead?

  3. Ruthe December 3, 2018 at 7:27 pm #

    Wow, I had no idEa there was lead in clay cat litter.

  4. Mindy Schriver December 4, 2018 at 5:40 am #

    I wonder where those outdoor cats are going to the bathroom? Hope it’s not a neighbor’s yard or garden! Cat feces carries diseases that you don’t want near your garden produce or to accidentally pick up while weeding! I’ve personally encountered both of these because of a neighbor’s cats. Please do not consider this as an option. You’re just shirking your responsibility for your cat’s bathroom needs. There are natural litter options as you mentioned. No excuse!

    • Tamara December 4, 2018 at 8:18 am #

      Mostly in our yard – we have raised beds to keep them out of our food garden – but they go in a couple specific areas of our yard. We have a very big yard. This also helps to keep the other critters away (mice and rats) which is a problem in many cities.

  5. Marlowe December 5, 2018 at 7:47 am #

    This is astounding! I am switching to World’s Best litter today! Thx!
    I have 3 cats that mostly go outside to potty — I have acreage.

    If I still lived in the suburbs, I would build a cheap “cat yard” using 2x4s and chicken wire to create a tunnel from a pet door that would lead to a garden-like, litter area.

    Thanks for doing this research that cam save lives from CKD.

    • Tamara December 5, 2018 at 9:13 am #

      You are very welcome!

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