Lead is everywhere, now what?

September 10, 2010
By Alison Hawkes

The Center for Environmental Health released a back-to-school study of lead in Bay Area children’s products that gained nearly no attention until a California Watch story reported it today.

The study found lead levels at 20 times the legal limit in a Rite-Aid purchased Spiderman backpack and high levels in a brand of lunchbox, and a pencil pouch purchased at Food4Less. The Oakland-based non-profit says it found fewer problems in products than it has in the past, noting a 2008 federal law that set a safety standard for lead in children’s products.

Still, it’s astounding that lead, which was banned from gasoline and paint in the late 1970s, is still so pervasive in the most unexpected places. In June, the Environmental Law Foundation, another Bay Area nonprofit,  released findings from an investigation into children’s juice boxes and baby food from around California that found single servings (not to mention the multiple servings that children might consume daily) contained lead above the legal daily limit for children. Additionally, some of them were premium brands, including Raley’s private-labeled premium apple juice and Santa Cruz Organic Concord Grape Juice and Dole Pear Halves.

Lead has long been known to cause neurological and developmental impairment in children, including lowered intelligence, and is similarly dangerous in utero, and so to pregnant women. There is no safe level of lead exposure, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which estimates that some 25 percent of U.S. children live in homes with exposed lead (primarily from chipping paint, plumbing, dust, and soil), a result of laws that never mandated systemic remediation of old homes to remove the hazard.

(As a side note, San Francisco, with its old housing stock, is especially prone to lead problems. When I moved into my 19th century Victorian last year, I bought a home lead test kit and found the entire kitchen red hot in lead paint, as well as my living room windowsills and door frames.)

What’s scarier still is that these same children, and others, are picking up lead from a variety of other unknown sources, mainly because of lax government mandates and enforcement.

In the case of the most recent back-to-school study, the state attorney general reportedly contacted the stores after CEH went public with the findings and asked the stores to remove the products. But I wonder why federal and state law meant to protect the public from unsuspecting toxins that could impair our very health and well-being is left to the research of a few dedicated environmental groups, who repeatedly have to blow the whistle.

With no systemic monitoring and enforcement, one easily suspects that the magnitude of the problem is unknown and that thousands of potential hazards are going undetected. As a service to the public, CEH offers free toy testing during drop-off hours.

Why does it not surprise me that this is not run by the government?

Tags: lead

3 Responses to “ Lead is everywhere, now what? ”

  1. Boris on September 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

    In my mind the thing to note about this story is that these results are from items that just so happened to be tested. What about the hundreds (thousands) of consumer goods that aren’t tested? If this is a random sample many of them have lead as well and we may never find out about it.

  2. ZipWall on September 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Boris, I agree with you. And, Alison, thank you for the article.
    I would like to add that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking the following steps to reduce your exposure to lead dust in the house: Wash floors, window sills, and toys regularly. Wipe your shoes off before entering the house. Wash children’s hands often. If you work with lead, you need to wash your work clothes separately.
    Toddlers are at a higher risk of lead poisoning because of their hand-to-mouth behavior.
    You can find more information on lead poisoning prevention in children at http://www.zipwall.com/epa.php.
    Also, there is a new Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, which went into effect in April 2010. It is designed to protect families from the dangers of lead dust resulting from renovations of pre-1978 houses.
    This regulation affects landlords, sellers, and contractors. You can read more about the rule at the website above or visit the official EPA’s website http://epa.gov/lead/.

  3. Rian @LeadCheck® on September 13, 2010 at 7:50 am

    The LeadCheck® Swab is the first EPA-recognized test kit in the country. We have been in the business of protecting families and contractors from the dangers of lead-exposure for over 23 years. The swabs are inexpensive, easy to use, reliable, and above all accurate. Our test kits were given rave reviews in an independent study done by the National Institute of Science and Technology. They have been featured on Oprah, Dr. Oz, This Old House, and in prominent news publications including Newsweek Magazine, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe.

    We are now playing a huge role in RRP Compliance since all contractors must now check all houses built before 1978 for lead.

    Please visit: http://www.leadcheck.com for more information.

    Or if you are a contractor looking for updates on the RRP Rule or EPA Compliance, visit our blog: http://www.leadcheck.com/blog


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