Does lead poisoning sound like something people used to worry about in the old days, not a modern concern that modern parents need to consider? Unfortunately, we still need to protect our kids from lead.
Since lead was banned in most products in the U.S., fatal and severe lead poisoning have become very rare in the United States. But there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even very low levels of lead are associated with cognitive impairment. With holiday shopping and family gatherings coming up, we should all be aware of lead safety.
Lead is not banned in plastics in the United States. Lead makes plastic more flexible, and is used in many plastic products. In some cases, lead in toys is not accessible to children until the toy is exposed to sunlight, detergents, or even air. The chemicals can break down and lead dust may be found on the plastic.
Toys made in China have also been found to contain lead. The limit for lead in toys in China is 600 parts per million, compared with 90 parts per million in the United States. A study of toys made in China found that one third of toys tested were contaminated with heavy metals, including lead.
Antique toys are another source of lead. Lead was common in paint in the early 20th century. Lead paint for toys was banned in 1978; toys from thrift shops or precious toys passed down by grandparents may still contain lead. Be careful with items like painted toy soldiers or red wagons.
Children are often given jewelry as a gift, or allowed to play with old jewelry, and some jewelry may contain lead. Jewelry made for children is particularly likely to contain lead.
Avoid cheap jewelry, old jewelry made before lead was regulated, and jewelry imported from countries with more relaxed standards.
Wearing jewelry containing lead does not present a danger to children. However, young kids may chew on jewelry or put it in their mouths. This can result in exposure to lead.
Watch items your children play with, and especially things they put in their mouths. Check the packaging of toys and jewelry to see what they are made of and to make sure they are safe. Think twice about using traditional remedies or cosmetics imported from countries with more relaxed regulations, and keep children away from antiques they might put in their mouths.
There is no safe level of lead for children. If you think that your child might have been exposed to lead, contact your pediatrician to find out whether a blood test is necessary.
Avoiding exposure to lead is the best plan. Unfortunately, you cannot tell by the look or the smell of a toy whether it contains lead. Better safe than sorry! Look for products with certification from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Stick to toys made after 2008, which have a Children’s Product Certificate.