November 06, 2006
For many people, when they think of environmental "lead poisoning"
they think of small children in older buildings with peeling or
chipping lead-based paint. In some cases, these people are correct...
that the primary sources of lead exposure for most children are:
- deteriorating lead-based paint,
- lead contaminated dust, and
- lead contaminated residential soil."
Beyond the paint (and the
dust and soil that the paint has contaminated), there are other
sources of lead that are making it into the hands (and mouths) of
"Public health officials
in the Oregon Department of Human Services are alerting parents
that bendable toys given to children as summer reading program incentives
pose a potential health hazard. The toys are a bendable dog and
cat, each about 4 inches long, given to children by public libraries.
... 'These toys are a potential health hazard and children should
not be handling them,' said Leiker. 'A particular concern is that
because of the toys small size and shape, children may put
them in their mouths and suck or chew on them.' If parents have
seen a child chewing or sucking on one of the toys, Leiker advises
they contact their health care provider and arrange for a test to
determine lead level in blood. Leiker also recommended that if parents
discover these toys in their home, they either return them to their
local library or dispose of them in the household trash."
While this report is from
the Oregon Department of Human Services, this recall affected libraries
across the country this past summer (2006). Unfortunately, the above
report offers offers just one example, not an isolated incident.
Another recall provides an example of a product that can end up
in the hands and mouths of fidgety children and teens: jewelry.
"The U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below,
today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product.
Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless
Name of Product: American Girl Childrens Jewelry ...
Hazard: The recalled jewelry contains high levels of lead. Lead
is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health
Description: The recall includes American Girl necklaces, bracelets,
earrings and hair accessories for girls. ...
Remedy: Consumers should immediately take recalled jewelry away
from children and return the items for a full refund..."
While older children and
teens are less likely to put toys in their mouths, it is important
to be sure that the products they are handling are free from lead,
especially when they are about to eat, or when that product might
come into contact with their food.
"Recent reports of
high lead levels in certain soft vinyl lunchboxes manufactured in
China has prompted the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology)
to ask retailers to immediately pull those lunchboxes from store
shelves while the agency collects independent testing data. Tests
conducted by the state of New York and California's Center for Environmental
Health on the soft vinyl surface of some lunchboxes show high levels
of lead. State officials are concerned that children might swallow
lead that has rubbed off onto their food or hands, exposing them
to unacceptable levels of lead. The Washington Retail Association
is supportive of the action requested by Ecology. Lead can be used
as a stabilizer in vinyl products, but studies have shown that lead
in soft vinyl lunchboxes does not stay bound to the vinyl. Lead
is a toxic material and lead exposure can cause serious health and
developmental problems for young children. It's important to limit
kids' exposure to all sources of lead."
Beyond the possibility
of exposure to lead that has "rubbed off onto their food or
hands," there is also the concern of lead in food. From time
to time there are alerts about high lead levels found in candy that
has been imported for sale in the United States.
One organic chocolate producer based in Oregon recently recalled
some of its products after they were shown to have lead levels above
what is considered acceptable. Their website explains how high levels
of lead were able to make it into the product, and what steps they
are now taking to prevent it from happening again.
"After working with
the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and our suppliers, we determined
that the lead got into the cacao mass used in the recalled chocolate
products at the facility where cacao beans were processed. The FDA
inspected our own manufacturing facility, and verified that lead
is not a factor. All other products, which are made with a different
source of cacao, showed test results that meet FDA guidelines. This
helped us isolate the problem to one kind of cacao from one supplier.
Our founder visited the cacao supplier to pinpoint the source of
the lead, by inspecting each step from the farm to the processing
facility. Tests on the cacao beans showed lead levels well below
FDA guideline, which verified us that that the lead was not coming
from the farms or soil, but was isolated to the processing facility.
To ensure that this problem does not happen again, we have ceased
working with the processing facility involved. In addition, we will
continue rigorous routine testing on all raw materials and finished
products so we can ensure that you receive the high quality, healthful
products you have come to expect from us."
Lead is present in the
environment, and often unavoidable. For that reason, consumers and
manufacturers need to do what they can to reduce the levels of lead
in their environment that they can control. Why?
"Exposure to lead
causes a wide range of health effects, and one of the interesting
things about lead is that those health effects vary from child to
child. ... More than ten years ago, the National Academy of Sciences
wrote that 'There is growing evidence that even very small exposures
to lead can produce subtle effects in humans [.and] that future
guidelines may drop below 10µg/dL as the mechanisms of lead
toxicity become better understood.' As it turns out, today
there is widespread recognition of the fact that there is no such
thing as a 'safe' level of lead exposure."
"* If not detected
early, children with high levels of lead
in their bodies can suffer from:
- Damage to the brain and nervous system
- Behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity)
- Slowed growth
- Hearing problems
* Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:
- Difficulties during pregnancy
- Other reproductive problems (in both men and women)
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Nerve disorders
- Memory and concentration problems
- Muscle and joint pain"
"Lead poisoning has
been associated with a significantly increased high-school dropout
rate, as well as increases in juvenile delinquency and criminal
behavior. It is often difficult for a parent to realize on their
own that their child may have too much lead in their blood. The
symptoms of lead poisoning can be subtle--they are often easily
confused with other, less worrisome problems. For instance, a child
may exhibit symptoms similar to those associated with the flu, such
as stomach aches and headaches. Other typical symptoms include irritability
and loss of appetite. The bottom line is: the only way to know for
sure whether or not a child has a lead-related problem is to get
the child tested for lead."
Questions of the Week:
What do you, your peers, and your family members need to know about
the hazards and side-effects of exposure to too much lead? What
do you and your peers need to know about possible sources of lead? Where would you look to find information
about lead-related recalls for products available in your area?
What would you need to know as a parent, babysitter, and/ or older
sibling to help protect the child(ren) in your life from avoidable
lead sources? What do the younger children in your life need to
know about the hazards of lead? How would you educate them? How
would your reach your peers with this same information? How would
you reach your parents and/ or other adults?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum