Archive for Monday, December 10, 2007

Lead paint concerns chip away at parents’ sense of control

December 10, 2007


Lead-painted toys worry parents

The naughty or nice list this year isn't for children -- it's for toys. As one product after another is being recalled for lead paint, the question remains: how much is too much? 6News reporter Christine Metz has more. Enlarge video

Angie and Matt Viets thought they had taken all the right safety measures to protect their children. They secured dressers to walls, covered electrical sockets and searched for the perfect car seat.

But this fall, the Lawrence couple, like many parents, were smacked with the unexpected.

They discovered their 3-year-old son, Beckett, had been sleeping with a dangerous toxin for almost two years.

The culprit: Curious George.

The doll, which is one of Beckett's favorites, was one of millions of toys recalled in the past year for having too much lead in the paint. After the recall, the parents took a close look and found paint chipped off the monkey's plastic face.

"It is extremely frustrating, given we spend so much time baby-proofing our homes," Angie Viets said. "Just to later learn the thing that could be possibly extremely damaging is the toys we are buying for our children."

They threw away recalled Thomas & Friends train toys and the Laugh and Learn kitchen set for their other child, newborn Sophia. But somehow the Vietses couldn't part with their son's stuffed monkey. So, Curious George sits on top of their closet where he can't be reached by their children.

"These toxic levels of paint - there is a degree of uncertainty," Angie Viets said.

The risks

In the past fiscal year, 19 products covering 3.8 million toys have been recalled because of the amount of lead contained in the paint.

A study released last week showed that out of more than a thousand toys tested, one-third had levels of lead above what the United States had deemed safe for children.

Despite the recalls, there hasn't been a single case of a child becoming injured from the toys with lead-based paint, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. One child, a 4-year-old boy from Minneapolis, died in March 2006 after swallowing a heart-shaped charm bracelet. The jewelry had lead in it.

Ed Kang, spokesman for the commission, said the reason for the recalls is because the toys don't meet U.S. safety standards. For there to be exposure, Kang said a child would have to be "sucking on a toy for hours and hours on end."

"It is an emotional issue when you are talking about a toxic chemical in your child's toys," Kang said. "But the reality is we recalled a few dozen products for lead paint and there have been no injuries out of the millions of toys."

Richard Baker, owner of a Lenexa-based environmental consulting firm that tests for lead paint, said there has been a degree of overreaction.

"(Some think) that just because that toy is sitting in the house and it's got lead on it that everyone in that house is being exposed, they are being lead poisoned. Which obviously that is not anywhere near the case," Baker said.

Young most threatened

The real concern comes with children under age 6, especially those still putting anything they can reach into their mouths.

"That really is the only inherent danger when the paint starts to come off by way of banging them off the floor or putting them in their mouths and scraping the paint off with their little teeth," Baker said.

Baker has been around lead paint for decades. He has tested thousands of toys for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, run lead poisoning prevention programs, helped write legislation for state and federal governments, and trained others to test for lead.

He said as a general rule, ingesting a single paint chip the size of a person's thumbnail is enough to cause a child to have too much lead in their blood.

"It takes very little amounts of lead to cause potentially irreversible damage," he said.

Lead poisoning shows few symptoms. If they occur, they are fatigue, headache, irritability and loss of appetite.

It can be years later before the consequences of lead poisoning are seen - most concerning are lower intelligence levels and a link to behavioral and learning disorders.

Lynn Marotz, an assistant professor of applied behavioral science at Kansas University, said the body can't get rid of lead. So, lead stays in the body and accumulates.

"It's one of those insidious conditions," Marotz said.

When large amounts of lead enter the body, children develop blood anemia, severe stomachaches, muscle weakness and brain damage. Children have died from lead poisoning.

The best way to tell whether a child has lead poisoning is through a blood test. Baker believes every child from age 6 months to 6 years should be tested at least once, if not annually.

Just 6 percent of all children under age 6 were tested in 2005 in Douglas County, according to the most recent data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

However, that could be changing. The lab at Lawrence Memorial Hospital has seen a slight increase in blood test for lead levels since the recent rash of recalls. In the first half of 2007, the lab processed roughly 40 to 50 tests per month. During the past six months, the numbers increased to about 70 per month.

All of us have some level of lead in our blood stream. The metal can be found in batteries, ammunition, fishing lures, old water pipes and toys.

Baker said the average American has about 1.7 to 1.8 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Government health agencies believe that a level of 10 micrograms is a potential problem. When Baker started working with lead poisoning in 1975, he said the average level was around 12 micrograms.

In 1978, the United States banned lead-based paints in houses and later reduced the amount of lead in gasoline.

The paints, stains and varnishes found in old homes are still the major cause for lead poisoning. Those paints have a much higher lead content than what is found in the recalled toys, Baker said. On the other hand, children generally don't chew on walls, hardwood floors or antique furniture.


Richard Heckler 10 years, 6 months ago

The bottom line. While the USA has forced many safreguard/environmental restrictions on USA manufacturing corporations once they leave USA shores none of that necessarily applies anymore. Not only is corporate america deserting the USA work force they are escaping scrutiny until it is too late. Why buy a USA in name only if not made in the USA. May as well buy France,Germany or Italy made product for it just may be a better and safer product. China does what it pleases and USA executives likely price the product as if it were still made in the USA considering slaves are paid about $2.00 per day.

Maytag for instance is a goner...nothing more than a name of a one time very reliable product. The name has been bought and sold so many times it is not really Maytag.

thubbard76 10 years, 6 months ago

Hey Merrill, Don't know if you are aware, but Maytag is a division of Whirlpool nowadays. Looks like more corporate cannibalism, eh?

Staci Dark Simpson 10 years, 6 months ago

Thats what we get for letting China build our toys. Anyone know of anywhere that sells toys that are not made in China? As a mom of a 5 year old it is very frustrating to try and find something all american made. Moms and Dads, have your child tested. I had mine tested since he had some of the Dora and Diego toys that were recalled. Luckily his levels were fine. Sorry about the rant, this just burns my a$$!

Sean Livingstone 10 years, 6 months ago

Let's not get distracted by lead in the toy only. There're lead in the lipsticks you wear. A recent program on CNBC tested two kids at home with high chemical content (and of course high lead), none of their kids got toys of lead! It comes from the other utensils that are MADE IN USA. Don't get distracted by the media.

bugmenot 10 years, 6 months ago

This is what the inevitable result of outsourcing and retailers trying to undercut each other's prices. Always ask yourself, "Why is it so cheap?" The answer is never going to be "because this retailer cares about me." It is more likely to be "because it is being made in the cheapest possible way by the cheapest possible labor."

Sean Livingstone 10 years, 6 months ago


We can make a lot of toys ourselves, and surprisingly, my sons grew up loving the toys that I made for them more than those I bought. When they're old enough, ask them to make their own toys, a good way of making them become more creative.

salad 10 years, 6 months ago

I had a similar experience at Sheplers...yeah, the western store! It turns out that 80% the products at a western store are made in China!!! I wrote a letter to their corporate offices complaining, I mean, what's more american than cowboy boots! Mindware and USAtoys are great sites, tons of good stuff. Corporate greed only responds at the bottom line. We all gotta stick together and demand quality stuff NOT made in China.

Alison Roberts 10 years, 6 months ago

"smacked with the unexpected" wow.. smacked? was that really the best word choice?

bugmenot 10 years, 6 months ago

I've tried to avoid buying Chinese-made goods to help send this message, and, my goodness, is it ever hard to do. Not just toys, but everything is made in China anymore. Case in point: I needed a thermometer, and it took 3 stores before I finally found one at CVS made in Germany (the best I could do, as none were made in the USA). And people wonder why this country's going downhill. We need good manufacturing jobs here at home.

pomegranate 10 years, 6 months ago

Merrill, you act as if the USA is the only country which outsources . You couldn"t be more wrong. Just get a toy catalog of European toys--you would think they would be made in France, Germany, Italy, or even Scandanavia somewhere. But no--Most of them come from good ol' China! AND they are super expensive because they come from Europe!

Richard Heckler 10 years, 6 months ago

" pomegranate (Anonymous) says:

Merrill, you act as if the USA is the only country which outsources ."

I've discovered that about other countries in my travels but hey my only concern is here. The only way to stop outsourcing is cut way back on purchases from China and elsewhere. Consumers have the power if only they would bite the bullet and exercise that authority.

Kookamooka 10 years, 6 months ago

Lead is a huge public health issue for Children. We used to live in a house built before 1979 and it had lead paint. In order to have your house scraped and repainted you practically need to hire hazmat professionals.

People love the charm of the old homes, but if you have little ones, you need to be really careful that they don't eat chipping paint. It supposedly tastes lemony and babies like it.

Have your child's lead levels tested! And if you flip old houses, get it done soon. It isn't something you want to mess around with.

glockenspiel 10 years, 6 months ago

Let's not forget that the nation's emergency rooms aren't being inundated with lead poisoned patients. Toys have contained lead paint for years. Most of us turned out alright.

AmericanMadeDave 10 years, 6 months ago

The safest bet for a toy is American Made. We may not make all the fancy electronic ones any more but if we create a demand for them a smart business person will start making them here in the US. What we see coming from China is a result of pure greed and oversight. This is from both the American Business person bringing the stuff in here and the Chinese Factory making the stuff.

Check out the site for a directory of American Made Products including toys, clothes, boots and more.


Meatwad 10 years, 6 months ago

People who insist on supporting Walmart should not complain that they can't find products that aren't made in China.

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