Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Lead Research

Okay, I am sure none of you really care to see all this, but after doing all the research I want to share anyway. So either just pretend to pay attention or move on to the next post ;)

I decided to do a little research on the incidence of lead poisoning in the US, and where the offending items are coming from. I take my information from the Center for Disease Control, or "CDC" ( I looked through all items recalled due to higher-than-allowable levels of lead since January of 1977 ( From 1977 through the end of 2004 I count 60 items which were recalled due to high lead levels. From 2005 through the end of 2008 there have been 213 additional entries. Many entries prior to 2005 do not include the place of manufacture, but all entries since then do. Here is a list of all the countries that have created toys found to have higher than allowed levels of lead:

China (by FAR the largest contributor -- perhaps just due to volume, though)
Hong Kong
South Korea
Mexico (only one or two since 2005, but several prior)
The following each had just one incidence prior to 2005:
Sri Lanka
and yes... one toy batch was recalled that was made in the USA in the year 1992.
Each recall report includes whether there have been any known as a result of the defect. Through all 263 entries there were 4 known incidents, I *think* I recall that they were exclusively from metals (such as jewelry / key chains) that were sucked on or swallowed. There was one fatality. The recall list covers more years than I've even been alive!
Considering the numbers, (found here: in the year 2006, the most recent year there is data for, 1.21% of all children who were tested for lead tested positive. That's .001% of the childhood population below 72 months (6 years). Of those children, only 17% of those tested with high enough levels (>or= 20ug/dL) to be considered lead poisoning. That is .0002% of the childhood population below 6 years old.
Compare this to this chart: which reports childhood cancer. In the age group of children up to 9 years old (that is how they break down the age groups) the percentage is the very same: .0002%. As many children suffer from lead poisoning as suffer from cancer.
The big difference is that lead poisoning is environmental. Of children who suffer from lead poisoning a vast majority (couldn't find any solid numbers) is caused by lead paint. Lead paint was done away with in 1978, but old homes build prior to the ban still have the problems. Until the walls have been stripped to the timbers and re-sheetrocked / finished there is still a risk of lead poisoning from the paint. As the old paint flakes and deteriorates the lead remains as it ever was -- and sits around in the form of lead laden dust. Children under 6 are the most likely to have trouble with this since their bodies are still developing so quickly and they are more likely to be in close proximity to the floor (read: lead dust) and more likely to put their fingers in their mouths. The lead does need to be ingested in order to get into the blood stream. Paint (since everything but the lead will break down over time) is the biggest threat for lead poisoning.
Rates of lead poisoning are more likely to show up in impoverished families since they are more likely to live in old homes where lead abounds in the paint -- and in pipes. Most lead pipes or lead welded pipes are long gone, but in very poor areas that isn't necessarily true.
In the year 1997 the incidence of positive lead ratings per the population under 6 was .005% and has steadily declined over the years. In 2006 it was down to .001%. Lead paint on walls and yes, occasionall on toys and clothing, seems to be the biggest factor.
This is one more good reference:
It gives a lot of info on exposure, risk, and prevention of lead poisoning. This bit seems particularly significant:

"The major source of lead exposure among U.S. children is lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust found in deteriorating buildings. Lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978. However, approximately 24 million housing units in the United States have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. More than 4 million of these dwellings are homes to one or more young children."Other sources of lead poisoning are related to:

  • hobbies (making stained-glass windows)
  • work (recycling or making automobile batteries)
  • drinking water (lead pipes, solder, brass fixtures, valves can all leach lead)
  • home health remedies (azarcon and greta, which are used for upset stomach or indigestion; pay-loo-ah, which is used for rash or fever)."

And here is a parting shot from the CDC:
"What is CDC’s approach?
CDC recommends designing, implementing, and evaluating primary prevention strategies that prevent childhood exposure to lead. The essential elements of primary prevention for childhood lead poisoning are as follows:
  • The first is to focus on lead paint in housing as the most important source of lead for young children.

    The system to identify high-risk housing and to make these units lead safe is in place. After 10 years of widespread blood lead testing and data collection by CDC-supported state and local partners, the specific addresses of housing units where children have been repeatedly poisoned are known to local officials. Systematic reduction of lead sources, particularly in old, poorly maintained housing combined with periodic maintenance monitoring will prevent children from being exposed to lead in these units in the future. Good evidence exits that those communities with the largest percent of children with very high blood lead levels, are also the communities that have the largest percent of children whose blood lead levels are lower but still well above the national average. This evidence also indicates the importance of primary prevention and the need to target those communities where the risk for exposure to lead is highest. Primary prevention in these communities would be expected to benefit all children who live in the highest risk communities.
  • The second is to restrict or eliminate nonessential uses of lead particularly in toys, eating and drinking utensils, cosmetics and traditional medicines whether manufactured in the United States or imported.

    In some areas of the United States as many as 35% of children identified with elevated lead levels are reported to have been exposed to items decorated with or made of lead. In most cases, the hazardous product is only identified after a child is lead poisoned. CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies are working to better identify hazardous products before they are in use."

So, do with this information what you will. Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to make sure I was basing my information on reliable sources. I feel like I'm back in school, LOL. I've just spent the last two hours researching lead and writing this informative blurb complete with references :P I don't think you need to worry much about your crafts tainting your children. If, for example, you buy bottle caps or other items pre-painted you may want to be cautious, also your clips - if you're afraid they will be put in mouths. Ribbon is very unlikely to contain lead unless it has been printed and the ink in the print process contains lead. Buying US made products may reduce the risk of tainted products versus buying imported products, particularly from the far east.
There will be a decision made sometime tomorrow, I believe (1/5/2009) about whether some items will be exempt from the testing because they cannot possibly contain lead. This is items such as sapphires, untreated wood, and natural fibers like cotton. I don't remember what else was on that "possibles" list but there should be decisions made sometime tomorrow, so we'll see.

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