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Topics > Healthy Outlook > A Number of Products Contain Harmful Lead

A Number of Products Contain Harmful Lead

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Thu, Oct. 26, 2006

By Joanne Genêt, PA, and Gail Doyle, RN

LEAD CAN LURK in seemingly innocent places. Many of us already know about old lead-based paint, but lead also may be hidden in the glaze of that pretty plate you picked up at a garage sale or even in the cheap jewelry your child buys from a vending machine.

On its own, the plate or the jewelry may not pose a serious threat, but small sources of lead can all combine to add up to a dangerous total body "burden" of lead.

So, as we recognize Lead Poisoning Prevention Week from Oct. 23-29, it's important to remember that, although lead poisoning can affect anyone, children younger than 6 are especially vulnerable.

Because a child's body is so small, it takes only a little lead to do harm.

Lead can permanently damage a child's developing brain and nervous system.

The result can be serious learning and behavior problems, often not recognized until years later -- when it may be too late.

A study published in September 2006 concluded that exposure to environmental lead is a risk factor for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Children are usually poisoned by lead that gets into the body by mouth.

The most common source is dust from old leaded paint.

The dust lands on the floor, gets on the child's hands, and goes from the hands into the mouth.

But there are other culprits besides paint. Your preschool daughter might suck on that cute metal pendant from a vending machine or the local dollar store.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled a variety of children's jewelry items containing lead, literally millions of potentially harmful necklaces, bracelets, rings and charms.

A young child in Minnesota died this year after swallowing a metal charm that was high in lead.

Your son might enjoy eating those popular sticky candies and spicy powders from Mexico, but lead has been found in some of them, too.

Last fall, many children's vinyl lunch boxes were found to contain lead. The situation has improved this year, but there are still lunch boxes that contain lead on store shelves.

What is a parent to do?

If you live in a house built before 1978, take extra care with repainting and remodeling projects.

Hire a professional certified to do lead work, or call the county's Lead Poisoning Prevention Project for information if you are planning on doing the work yourself.

Isolate the work area, and keep the children and pregnant women out.

Put down plastic sheeting to collect dust and paint chips.

Make as little dust and paint debris as possible - avoid dry sanding, scraping and grinding. When the job is done, clean well, using wet methods such as mopping.

Be aware of lead in common items found around the home, such as fishing sinkers, older vinyl mini blinds, some ceramics and the jewelry, candy and lunch boxes mentioned above.

Many household items can be tested for lead using inexpensive test kits available at the hardware or paint store.

And finally, talk to your child's doctor about getting a blood test for lead.

The impacts of lead poisoning can be reduced but only if you know it's there.

For information, call the Contra Costa Lead Poisoning Prevention Project at 866-FIX-LEAD (866-349-5323) or visit the Web site at

Genêt is the manager of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Project of Contra Costa Health Services. Doyle is the project's Health Educator.

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