Though federal laws recently reduced the amount of permissible lead in children’s toys from 300 to 100 ppm (parts per million), Illinois and Ohio say that’s not enough – and are requiring stores to let customers know if a toy has more than 40 parts per million.
Those are trace amounts – the difference between 300 and 40 parts per million can’t even be seen by the naked eye. At first, I thought, Oh, cut it out – that’s not a lot of lead. But when I talked to a researcher who studies the effects of lead – and how much we get even when we’re careful – I changed my tune.
Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the EPA, points out that as of August 14 of this year, the allowable amount of lead in children’s toys was reduced from 300 ppm to 100 ppm. “Lead is cumulative – it builds up in a child’s system and never leaves – so we’re enforcing this to extremely minute levels,” she says. The greater problem is that the paint in older homes contains lead, and parents need to be extremely vigilant to ensure their homes are lead-free.
So, it’s the general environment, not the toys, causing any lead problem, right? Wrong. Ami Zota is a post-doctorate fellow in UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, and she spends her life tracking the effects of lead on the pregnant women an babies.
“Lead levels have steadily decreased in the US, but it’s still prevalent,” she says. “It can be in the soil, from gasoline or old industries. There’s lead in other consumer products – jewelry, even some spices. So if you add toys on top of that – thinking of it in a cumulative-exposure context – you really want no lead at all.”
This is particularly true for babies. “The brain, development, and behavior are all in formulation,” Zota says. “Lead can affect how well that process goes.” Learning difficulties and behavior problems (like aggression) are symptoms of lead exposure in young children. Poorer children and minority children are exposed to lead at much greater rates.
And like an unwelcome house guest, lead never leaves. It ultimately gets stored in your bones, and body-events like pregnancy and menopause – when you create and use calcium – gets it moving through your system again. Lead exposure has also been linked to pregnancy complications like low birth weight and hypertension.
The thing that really creeps me out about this whole lead thing is the way people wave their hand at any effort to make our kids safer, and dismissively say, “well, they weren’t careful when I was a kid, and I’m fine. Everyone’s fine.” Everyone’s not fine. Kids are allergic to way more stuff than when I was a kid. Obesity is huge (literally). People get diabetes more. Impoverished people get particular diseases (like hypertension!) more easily.
My mom had four vaginal births, and breastfed four babies, with no problem whatsoever; we, her daughters, have two emergency c-sections, three cases of preeclampsia, and two chronically low-flow nursers among us. I’m not saying this is all because of lead. The reasons are many and varied. But we’re not fine. We’re kind of effed. So if Illinois wants to curtail lead in kids’ toys even more, and set off a cascade of increased awareness in the process, I’m okay with that.
Do you worry about lead in your home? Have you found it in strange places, or discovered high lead levels where you didn’t expect it?
Image via YouTube