A Contrarian View of Lead Paint and Toys

By August 27, 2007Trade

Very few stories on the recall of Chinese-made toys provide much information about the risk factors. For decades we’ve heard about the dangers of lead, but the standard culprit was lead-containing paint in homes, which presented the possibilities of extended contact through breathing and consuming, especially by children.

But how dangerous is a toy or two? Dangerous only if a child gums it for a couple of years? Given Americans’ hypersensitivity to any risk at all, perhaps the media are stirring up unnecessary fear? Especially during the slow time of summer, isn’t it possible tainted products are this year’s media version of August shark attacks?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides a good summary in Sunday’s “Lead Paint Recalls Worries Parents.”

While extensive hand-to-mouth contact with lead paint on toys can lead to exposure, the biggest concerns are sucking, chewing or swallowing a tainted product, [CPSC spokesman] Mr. Wolfson said.

Shiny metallic jewelry made for children is a category that is particularly prone to problems.

“We are very concerned about the entire product line of children’s metal jewelry,” he said.

OK, that makes sense. Eating entire pieces of lead is dangerous.

Anyway, this op-ed by Melanie Scarborough in The Examiner takes quite a contrarian point of view on the recent hullabaloo.

The Centers for Disease Control now defines lead poisoning in children as a level above 10 micrograms per milliliter. In 1990, that amount qualified only as a “level of concern.”

Three decades ago — before lead was banned from house paint and gasoline — lead concentrations as high as 80 mcg/ml were considered safe. That didn’t produce a generation of cretins.

Given that today’s Americans have an average lead concentration of only 2.3 mcg/ml, a child could eat his entire Thomas the Train set and not approach the lead levels his parents had as healthy children.

That seems too glib, but is it wrong? We don’t know.

Best strategy — political and practical — is for companies to recall the toys, for parents to be careful, and to not lose any sleep over the potential poisoning from lead. Because potential is all it seems to be, and panic helps nothing.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Trish says:

    Thought this was interesting. I wouldn’t worry too much about the paint on our Thomas trains.

    Love you,

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