With all the attention on lead in toys after the seven Mattel/Fisher-Price recalls in 2007, you might have assumed the issue was resolved. Think again. From January through June 2008, the there have been more than 50 recalls of over a million products due to high lead content. The vast majority of these recalled products are children’s products.
The latest was a recall of children’s camouflage(!) pajamas with leaded paint from The Children’s Place. Last month, Disney Tinkerbelle wands, Pirates of the Caribbean sleeping bags, Rawlings batting helmets, and children’s brightly painted storage bins sold at Lowes were recalled because they violate the US lead paint standard. Inexpensive children’s jewelry and other similar metal items continue to be recalled regularly.
Why should this register on your very full parent-radar? Just one instance of ingesting lead can permanently harm a child, potentially lowering his or her IQ and impulse control, among other things. Yet many children do not show obvious symptoms. If not identified by a blood test, lead poisoning can continue undetected for years.
Why do lead recalls continue unabated? Chinese manufacturers as well as manufacturers in many other developing countries have used lead paint on wooden and plastic toys for years because it makes the paint last longer and it’s inexpensive. Many continue to sidestep US protocols against the use of lead, putting profit above child safety. Current product inspections can’t possibly catch every product that contains lead.
So parents must do two things: we must be advocates and we must be vigilant. If Congress were to pass legislation that imposes hefty fines on importers of products that violate the US lead paint standard, I think we’d find violations plummeting.
House Resolution 4040 and Senate Bill 2663 are two measures that would increase penalties for violations of lead content standards from $ 1.25 million to $20 million, require third party testing, reduce the number of allowed parts per million from 600 to 100 and increase the budget of the Consumer Public Safety Commission.
But even after parents whose children were lead poisoned by toys visited Washington to tell their stories, the bills are treading water in Congress. HR 4040 has passed the House and is in conference. Representatives Dingell, Waxman, Rush, DeGette, Schakowsky, Barton (TX), Whitfield (KY), and Stearns are the House conferees. S 2045 passed the Senate and then was replaced by S 2663, which has not yet come up for a vote. Senator Harry Reid controls the calendar for senate votes. Congress meets for only 2 ½ more months this year, so please take a moment to contact your elected officials to help push these measures through. You can check the website Open Congress and the Center for Justice and Democracy for the latest information.
The Wall Street Journal reports that as many as twelve states have grown weary of waiting on Congress and are working on their own varying standards, which means confusion for manufacturers and eventually higher priced toys.
Either way, it’s too late to have new standards in place to affect toys being made for the 2008 Christmas season. So in the meantime, parents need to become ever-vigilant experts at minimizing the risk of lead poisoning to our children.
Vigilance means keeping up with lead related recalls of toys, children’s jewelry, children’s clothing and more by watching the news regularly and frequently checking the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall announcements and product safety alerts here: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html But since there is a recall every few days, something you already own could contain lead. So vigilance means keeping all toys out of children’s mouths as much as humanly possible.
Vigilance also means avoiding toys, shower curtains, clothing etc. that have a strong chemical smell because they are probably made of PVC, a material that often includes lead. If you buy US or European made toys, you’ll decrease the risk greatly, though they are hard to find these days.
But because lead accumulates in the body, we can’t restrict our vigilance to toys and other children’s products. Lead is everywhere in our environment. Electronic components contain lead, cadmium, mercury and other heavy metals. So, as tempting as it is when a child is crying, don’t let small children play with cell phones, remote controls, batteries and other similar electronic items until they are old enough to keep them out of their mouths.
Did you know that porcelain bathtubs and sinks can leach lead, especially if the enamel is worn, chipping or stained? If you want to know for sure whether your tub is leaching lead, you can pick up an inexpensive test kit at a hardware store. You might be surprised at what you find. Many bathtub refinishers say that the majority of the tubs they examine test positive for lead. Until you know for sure, don’t let your child drink bath water. Keep all sponges, brushes and anything else you use to clean the tub and sink in child-proof cabinets because they will end up in a toddler’s mouth in a flash.
Ceramic dishes with lead glaze and lead crystal are additional sources of lead poisoning, including leaded glass in doors. Many Christmas light cords, some off-brand crayons, some cosmetics and home remedies, and even some candies made outside the US contain extremely high levels of lead.
Don’t let children chew on any painted surfaces and keep paint chips off the floor because the paint may contain lead. Children should be removed from a house built before 1980 that is being sanded for repainting. Vinyl materials like window blinds can contain lead, so keep them out of little mouths.
The burning of leaded gasoline until 1996 emitted lead into the air which settled everywhere in the soil and dust. So don’t let children eat dirt. Wash children’s hands several times a day and especially after playing outside to remove any traces of lead they may have picked up from our ubiquitous lead-laden dirt and dust.
Bottom line: Try not to let children put anything in their mouths unless you are positive it does not contain lead. I recognize that’s a major challenge, but to be safe, look at everything with a skeptical eye. And educate older children about the things they can do to minimize their own lead exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that children aged one and two deemed to be at risk receive blood lead level tests. Until recently, the CDC recommended universal screening but scaled back that recommendation due to cost effectiveness in 1997. But because of the prevalence of lead in our environment, all children really are at risk. Some pediatricians conduct these tests, but many don’t. If yours doesn’t, you can and should request it. These simple tests have detected high lead levels in children never suspected of having lead poisoning.
Parents have to be vigilant about so many things. But don’t let lead slip through the cracks. Our vigilance does make a difference!
Patty Bates-Ballard is a writer and editor who advocates respect for the earth and its people. The owner of WordSmooth, she has operated her own business from her Dallas home since 2002, while raising her two sons, Kory and Kaden.
Prior to forming her own business, Patty was the Director of Diversity for the Greater Dallas Community Relations Commission, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving race relations in the DFW Metroplex. Over her 15 years of employment with the GDCRC, she developed and delivered diversity training to a wide range of organizations, corporations and school districts. Patty is a trained mediator who has helped mediate conflict and facilitate public meetings for school districts, corporations and governmental entities.
Patty’s extensive human rights work has given her a deep appreciation and respect for cultural and ethnic diversity that informs all of her endeavors. She has developed a curriculum called “Socha” used by school districts, corporations and non-profits designed to help “Sow, Cultivate, and Harvest” their organization’s full potential.
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