Acute lead poisoning results from ingesting soluble lead compounds. The symptoms were called "painter's colic" since painters, covered with white lead, were at risk. The damage appears to be mainly to the nervous system, and the effects not as acute as those of mercury poisoning. Lead is an accumulative poison, building up until it reaches a toxic level.
An antidote after swallowing a soluble lead salt is a stiff drink of Epsom salts, MgSO4, which precipitates insoluble PbSO4.
There is no risk at all in handling lead metal. It cannot be absorbed through the skin or the respiratory tract. Dilute hydrochloric acid has little effect on it, so the lead would pass through the stomach before any damage was done. Eating lead is probably safe, but not encouraged. Carbonated water dissolves lead to some degree. Food and drink should never touch lead, since organic acids, such as acetic acid, may dissolve lead. Lead is, on the whole, very much less a hazard than mercury. It was made dangerous by its widespread use in paint and motor fuel, and that is now past.
This whole site is an excellent reference site for the practical survival engineering type of person. It has about 5,000 pages and I have captured it in PDF for the next primitive survival CD update. see http://www.du.edu/~jcalvert/
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