02 November 2006

Lead in vinyl lunchboxes?

LaReen passed this along:

I found this today and thought that it was interesting. It says that vinyl lunch boxes could contain small amounts of lead. I thought that it would be good to let other parents know.

Lead! In lunch boxes! I checked Snopes to see if this was a bona-fide issue or just an urban myth, and it is indeed true, although the Consumer Products Safety Commission insists that the lead levels, when they do exist, are so low they pose no threat. I'm not convinced. Even small levels of lead in the blood can affect a child's brain function. Why risk it?

Aside: How about that Kill Bill lunch box? Nice, retro design, but can you imagine sending your kid to school with that thing? If only I could find the metal Star Wars lunch box I took to school as a kid...

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I ended up buying a lead testing kit at the home improvement store and tested my daughter's lunch box twice. It came back negative. Maybe the levels were so low the lead test kits don't pick it up?

Of course as a parent of two teenagers and a one and a half year old, my first concern is about my children. I also take into consideration the children I serve as a Montessori teacher. But what I really wonder on this issue is how will this small amount of lead affect ME? I handle several lunch boxes a day, a week, a school year. What affect if any will this play on my own personal well being? Okay, my conclusion is that I try not to think about it too much... :)

I had a friend test her bags with a home kit and they came up positive. She solved the problem by switching to a Bento Box. They are very cute, Japanese style, lunch boxes. She found hers on Ebay.

The Laptop Lunch box http://www.laptoplunches.com/
is manufactured in California and has been tested and found lead-free. My daughter loves her lunchbox, and I love that the compartments help her remember to pack a variety of foods. Reusablebags.com says they have tested all their lunch bags for lead and only offer those that are lead-free. I figure, better safe than sorry. I bought my daughter's lunch box, but made the bag myself in about half an hour using pre-quilted fabric and some seam binder. Pretty easy if you have a sewing machine and basic skills (and low expectations for your bag's appearance!)

Unfortunately, there are many hidden lead dangers that parents should be aware of, especially parents of small children and infants. I became aware of this because I work for a health department and receive the recall notices regularly on products, and I have three young kids.

First, many everyday metal objects like car keys should NEVER be given to a baby to play with because they can contain lead. What does a baby do, but put the keys directly in his or her mouth! Another common culprit is cheap metal jewelry, like the kind sold at the Dollar Store or out of vending machines. Give these to your toddler or even a young girl and she is likely to be found mouthing them and ingesting lead. There was also a recent recall of a heart-shaped metal charm (a give away item as a promotion on a box of Rebok tennis shoes) that was swallowed by a little boy and when he died they found dangerously high levels of lead in his blood and a clear x-ray of the heart in his stomach. Lead poisoning can lead to a number of health problems, including impairted mental function and (at very high levels) death. Please never give a small child metal objects to play with.

Finally, one precaution for parents this holiday season. Wash your hands after handling christmas lights. Handling them can result in a small amount of lead exposure. Though the exposure isn't great, and not likely to hurt you (since you only do this once a year) it still is a good idea to be careful (since it never hurts to wash your hands). And obviously, have your children wash their hands if they are helping hang the christmas lights.

Lead exposure has a cumulative effect. So that multiple exposures over time can be harmful.

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