In a recent article in the Associate Press, China blamed U.S. companies for its recent use of lead paint and other harmful products in toys and other exports. In the article, Li Zhuoming, executive vice chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Toy Industry Association said profit margins in China’s toy industry are low and "it’s hard to make money" because of the cost of labor and materials. He said foreign companies run the risk of getting shoddy products if they demand too low a price from Chinese manufacturers.
China’s goods have come under intense scrutiny in recent months after toxic chemicals were found in exports ranging from food to toothpaste and pet food. Last week, distributors in Australia and New Zealand announced a recall of Chinese-made blankets found to contain high levels of formaldehyde, a potentially cancer-causing chemical preservative that gives a permanent press effect to clothes. Recalls in the U.S. have included Chinese produced tires as well as toys and food products.
Obviously some items are more hazardous than others, but the use of lead-based paint on toys would certainly rank at the top. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services still describes childhood lead poisoning as "the most important environmental health risk for young children."
The United States has worked diligently to eliminate lead in products such as paint, plumbing pipes, ceramics and gas. The number of U.S. children with elevated blood lead levels has declined dramatically over the past three decades, thanks to public health efforts.
A strong poison that targets the body’s nervous system, lead is absorbed in a manner similar to calcium, (especially through the intestine) with accumulation in soft tissues and bone over time resulting in many different health effects. Young children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead’s harmful health effects, because their brains and central nervous system are still being formed. Even very low levels of exposure can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, and kidney damage. At high levels of exposure, a child may become mentally retarded, fall into a coma, and even die from lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has also been associated with juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.
While a child’s intestine may absorb over 50 percent of a dose of lead, an adult’s intestine will only absorb about 10 percent. Lead poisoning in adults can increase blood pressure and cause fertility problems, nerve disorders, muscle and joint pain, irritability, and memory or concentration problems although it takes a significantly greater level of exposure to lead for adults than it does for kids to sustain adverse health effects. Most adults who get lead poisoning get exposed to lead at work and if they don’t remove and wash contaminated clothing, tools, and skin at their work site, they can potentially bring it home to their family.
When a pregnant woman has an elevated blood lead level, that lead can easily be transferred to the fetus, since lead crosses the placenta. In fact, pregnancy itself can cause lead to be released from the bone, where lead is stored-often for decades-after it first enters the blood stream. The same process can occur with the onset of menopause. Once lead is released from the mother’s bones, it re-enters the blood stream and can end up in the fetus. In other words, if a woman had been exposed to enough lead as a child for some of it to be stored in her bones, the mere fact of pregnancy can trigger the release of that lead and can cause the fetus to be exposed. In such cases, the baby is born with an elevated blood lead level.
Recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides new evidence that there could well be very harmful effects occurring at lower levels of exposure than 10 micrograms ( per deciliter of blood) which has been the generally accepted level for when adverse health effects occurred. In other words, science is now telling us that there is no level of lead exposure that can be considered safe.
So while lead poisoning remains a problem among all age groups, children are especially vulnerable, which makes the recent discoveries of lead in toys even more alarming. And while handling and mouthing a new toy may not constitute a high risk for every child, the only way to know for sure is to check the child’s blood lead level.
A very important point to know is that a child who gets enough iron, calcium, and vitamin C in their diet will absorb less lead. Foods rich in iron include eggs, lean red meat, and beans. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are high in calcium. And fresh citrus fruits, such as oranges and strawberries, are a great source of vitamin C. It’s also extremely important to wash your child’s hands frequently. Not only can this eliminate lead particles but it will play havoc with bacteria and reduce infections.
If you have any reason to suspect that your child has been exposed to a toy containing lead, remove the toy immediately and check http://www.cpsc.gov for photos and descriptions of recalled toys.
Most children with elevated blood lead levels have no symptoms so the only way to tell is to have a blood lead test. Testing for lead poisoning in children may be done at your pediatrician’s office or at your local health department. Please call for appointments and watch for additional testing options.
If lead is found in a child’s blood, treatment options vary, from boosting a child’s nutrition to help remove the lead from the body naturally to using a medication that binds to the metal in the blood to help the body clear it faster.
The American market accounts for nearly a third of the estimated $100 billion a year the world spends on toys and video games. And while most of the world’s largest toy companies are American, 80 percent of the toys they sell are manufactured in China.
Listed below are some of the companies and their products that have been recently recalled due to the presence of elevated levels of lead in the paint.
TOBY N.Y.C recalled Toby & Me jewelry sets.
Buy-Rite Designs Inc., of Freehold, N.J., recalled children’s Divine Inspiration charm bracelets. Schylling Associates recalled Thomas and Friends, Curious George and Other Spinning Tops and Tin Pails
Martin Designs Inc. recalled Sponge Bob Square Pants (tm) Character Address Books,
Pre-school toys from Mattel’s Fisher-Price Division that include Dora the Explorer, Big Bird, Elmo, Sesame Street and Giggler Gabber. Mattel Inc. - "Sarge" toy car.
For more information on these and other recalls go to http://www.cpsc.gov/