(NaturalNews) Environmental regulations since the 1970s have helped to rein in lead, following its universal recognition as a probable human carcinogen and powerful neurotoxin worth avoiding as much as possible. The elimination of lead-based gasoline and paint, as well as the phasing out of numerous industrial and commercial sources of lead has helped improve societal exposure and lower overall burden over the past several decades.
Exposure to lead in developing children, as well as mothers and children during the prenatal period, remains an especially sensitive area, where significant potential for harm exists even from relatively low-level doses. It can irreversibly reduce IQ, impair cognitive function and negatively impact behavior, not only intellectually but socially, as well as damage numerous organs. Thus, even seemingly innocuous sources of lead exposure in children are worthy of attention.
Hey Kids! Lead for Lunch?
One of the most widely targeted products has been one that comes into close contact both with children and the food they eat: lunch boxes.
The alarm was first sounded by the Center for Environmental Health, based in Oakland, California, which tested dozens of products back in 2005, finding that about 25% of soft vinyl lunch box containers included lead as a stabilizer, which helps the PVC plastic keep its shape. Nevertheless, millions of children were toting them around.
Michael Green, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health, pressured manufacturers to get the lead out of their products and avoid the use of PVC, stating "Parents shouldn't have to worry that lead might be lurking in their children's lunch. We urge other manufacturers and retailers to meet the same safety standards quickly, so all children's lunchboxes can be free of lead risks." Many of the offending products were produced inside the United States.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, however, cast doubt on the significance of the findings, claiming their own testing revealed only low levels of lead that presented no immediate harm, despite the fact that the heavy metal accumulates and has been found to cause irreparable damage even in small amounts.
Furthermore, environmental exposure to lead has been found in studies to contribute to population-wide declines in performance, with children - particularly those living in industrialized areas - ranking as the most vulnerable group.
'No Safe Level'
California's Prop 65 determined that oral lead exposure of 15 µg/day represents a "No Significant Risk Level."
"There is no safe blood lead level for kids," stated Mary Jean Brown, chief of the CDC's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, who warned against exposure to lead particles in the minute dust that results from the break down of the vinyl and lead combination found frequently in lunch boxes, as well as other products.
Leading to a scandal and record-setting lawsuit for lead exposure, California's own Department of Health was embarrassed after it handed out some 100,000 lead-tainted lunch boxes at public events emblazoned with decals encouraging people to eat fruits and vegetables and live a healthy lifestyle. The giveaways were produced by T-A Creations, who were sued in 2006 and later fined $10 million under a default judgement for knowingly violating lead restrictions under California's Prop 65 laws, despite having been warned about the lead content of their products.
Studies Confirm Lead Frequently in Lunch Boxes, Vinyl Products
Further testing was done by a research team in Illinois in March 2007, who found that lead contaminated lunch boxes in 35% of samples - more than one-third! Their study, published in Clinical Pediatrics, confirmed that the neurotoxic heavy metal was indeed frequently present in the containers often used by children. Illinois law restricts the use of lead in any toys, furniture or articles that are used by - or that can be chewed by - children, implicating a number of lunch boxes on the market.
Under federal law, children's products containing lead cannot exceed 600 ppm, as established under the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which also requires manufacturers to take into account the impact of ordinary kid behaviors such as swallowing, chewing, mouthing or breaking pieces that may contain internal hazards.
Recent scandals - and subsequent recalls - since 2007 over lead-tainted toys, pet foods and cosmetics made in China have gained serious media traction. Though the problem has not been fully solved, the alarm has been effectively sounded over heavy metal contamination from a country with seriously lacking environmental regulations and an even more abysmal enforcement record - despite the fact that a lion's share of consumer products continue to be imported into the United States. A 2012 study confirmed that blood lead levels in Chinese children remain noticeably elevated as compared with those of developed countries, largely due the widespread and ongoing lead pollution in the country.
The effects of lead are especially prevalent in severely polluted countries and various Third World countries and industrialized areas - even in developed Western nations like the U.S. - where low-income and socio-economically disadvantaged children often face significant exposure, particularly through the inhalation of lead dust and drinking lead-tainted water.