Lead and our bodies

recognize the signs of lead poisoning and know how to prevent it

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Beware of Lead in Children's Lunch Boxes

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) in Oakland, California filed a lawsuit on August 31, 2005 against manufacturers and retailers of soft vinyl lunch boxes that can potentially expose children to dangerous levels of lead.

The amount of lead found in soft vinyl lunch boxes is not enough to cause acute lead poisoning, but is enough to contribute to health problems now and in the future, the most common of which are:

  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Stomachaches
  • Poor appetite
  • Hearing problems
  • Stunted growth
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Digestive disorders
  • Reproductive problems

According to the CEH's report, the majority of lunch boxes tested did not contain lead. Of the 17 boxes that tested positive for lead, the one that contained the most lead was an Angela Anaconda box made by Targus International, which tested at 56,400 parts per million (ppm) of lead, more than 90 times the 600 ppm legal limit for lead in paint in children’s products. The rest of the boxes that tested positive had between two and twenty-five times the legal limit for lead in paint in children's products.

One of the reasons why the CEH's investigation is of significant concern is that the highest lead levels were found in the lining of lunch boxes, where it can easily come into contact with food, and where kids are likely to touch before handling their food


It's important to note that only soft plastic lunch boxes were tested for this report. The CEH did not test any hard plastic or metal lunch boxes.

If your child uses a soft plastic lunch box and you want to be sure that it doesn't contain harmful levels of lead, the only way of knowing for sure is by testing it with a simple lead testing kit. In the U.S., you can find inexpensive kits at leadcheck.com or by calling               1-800-884-6073        for PACE's Lead Alert kit. In Canada and other countries, your best bet is to call a local hardware store and ask if they have a simple lead testing kit, one that can be used to check for contamination on walls and other everyday materials that children can come into contact with.

Of course, the safest approach would be to do away with soft plastic lunch boxes and stick with reuseable cloth bags or brown paper bags.

  •  NPR.org, August 2, 2007 · Toys based on Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Elmo have joined Thomas the Tank Engine in a U.S. recall of "Made in China" products Thursday as Beijing pledged to work with Washington to improve product safety.

Dora the Explorer and Diego characters were also included in the latest in a string of safety recalls of Chinese products came from Fisher-Price, which said it was asking for a voluntary return of almost 1 million toys.

The problem with the recalled toys was detected by an internal probe and reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, David Allmark, general manager of Fisher-Price, told The Associated Press Wednesday...

Fisher-Price and the commission issued statements saying parents should keep suspect toys away from children and contact the company.

China "attaches great importance to product quality and food safety and is highly responsible," said Wei Chuanzhong, an official with the General Administration for Quality Supervision,

Inspection and Quarantine, one of China's product safety watchdogs. ..

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Ways to Prevent Lead Poisoning

How to Recognize Signs of Lead Poisoning

 Lead poisoning has become less of a health threat to the general population since lead-based paint and leaded gasoline were phased out in the 1970s.

But with the recall of leadbased products from China, people who work around lead, pregnant women, infants, and young children continue to be at significant risk of suffering from mild to moderate cases of lead poisoning. Unborn babies, infants, and young children are especially at risk because exposure to even small amounts can lead to permanent damage. Lead can be absorbed through the placenta and breast milk.


Lead Poisoning Signs

The most common symptoms of gradual, long term lead poisoning are as follows:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Anemia
  • Mental impairment
  • Hearing problems
  • Stunted growth
  • Hyperactivity

Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can result in diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions, coma, and even death.

Sources of Lead

Lead occurs naturally in the environment. The reality is that every living creature is exposed to small amounts of lead through household dust, food, drinking water, air, soil, and a variety of consumer products. All we can do to protect ourselves against lead poisoning is to minimize our exposure to it.

Ways To Minimize Exposure To Lead

  1. Don't wear outdoor shoes indoors. And if you walk barefoot outdoors, give your feet a good washing when you come indoors. Lead found in soil can be carried indoors by people who don't take off their shoes and by people who walk barefoot outdoors. If you think that this isn't a valid point since human beings have lived in harmony with nature for much of the history of our world, remember that the industrial revolution added and continues to add unquantifiable amounts of lead to our environment. Also, please keep in mind that babies and young children have a breathing zone that is close to the ground and are constantly putting things into their mouths.

  2. Give your pets' feet , legs, and undersides a good rubdown with a coarse towel after taking them outdoors for the reason mentioned above.
  3. Wash your children's hands on a regular basis, especially before eating meals and snacks. Children may inhale or ingest lead dust that settles on their hands through contact with everyday objects like toys, carpet, and furniture.

  4. Wash toys that may have been put into your children's mouths, especially if these toys are in contact with a dusty surface.

  5. Use a wet cloth or paper towel to regularly clean all surfaces that your children come into contact with on a regular basis.

  6. Use a vacuum cleaner that utilizes a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.

  7. Use only cold water from your faucets for cooking and drinking. Lead can enter the water supply from lead solder found in plumbing, lead service connections, or lead pipes in homes and buildings. Cold water is much less likely to leech lead from these sources than hot water is.

  8. If a faucet has not been used for several hours, let the cold water run until it gets as cold as possible - anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes in most cases - before collecting it for use.

  9. If possible, use a water filter to ensure reduction or elimination of lead in the water that you use to cook and drink. A simple Brita water filter can remove up to 93% of the lead found in tap water.

  10. If you have to sand or strip old paint that may contain lead, be sure to use a high quality mask to prevent inhalation of lead particles. Most indoor and outdoor paints that were manufactured before 1950 contained significant amounts of lead.

  11. If you have children, be sure that they do not spend regular time in rooms that contain inexpensive, horizontal plastic mini-blinds that have been made in Asia or Mexico, as these types of blinds stand a good chance of containing lead. These blinds should be removed from child care centers, schools, your living environment, and any other locations that your children spend time in.

  12. Don't use crystal glasses to drink out of. This point is especially relevant to pregnant women and children. When leaded crystal comes into contact with liquids, especially those that are acidic (some fruit juices, soft drinks, port, wine), lead can leech into the liquids.

  13. Pregnant women and children should not be exposed to burning candles that may contain lead in their wicks.

  14. Parents should be aware that some brands of soft vinyl lunch boxes can potentially expose their children to dangerous levels of lead.

  15. To prevent inhalation of dangerous lead vapors, it is best not to participate in hobbies that involve the use of lead solder. Examples include making stained glass, lead shot (small beads of lead), and lead fishing weights.

  16. Beware of using glassware and pottery that are made in third world countries for storing, preparing, or serving food. Some of them are covered with a glaze that can contain lead, and can ultimately bleed lead into food.

  17. People who work in industries that are known to have a higher-than-average exposure to lead dust should make every effort to wear appropriate breathing masks while working, wash their hands before every meal, and shower as soon as they return home from work. Lead dust can easily cling to one's hair, skin, and clothing. Work clothes should be put in the laundry room as soon as possible, away from people, especially children.

If you suspect that you are suffering from a mild to moderate case of chronic lead poisoning, you can ask your doctor to do a simple blood test that will reveal your lead status.

If your lead level is higher than is considered to be healthy but your doctor doesn't believe that you are in danger, here are three steps that you can take to help lower the amount of lead in your body:

  1. Eat cilantro on a regular basis. Although I have not been able to find any published studies that support the claim that cilantro can help to expel heavy metals like lead from the body, from an experiential viewpoint, I have found it to be helpful in some cases. There's certainly no harm in adding cilantro to one's diet - it is abundant in chlorophyll and contains vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, and niacin.

  2. Take chlorella on a regular basis. Like cilantro, chlorella appears to have the ability to mobilize and eliminate lead from the body. Most high quality super green food products come with chlorella.

  3. Heed the major ways of minimizing your exposure to lead, as listed above. 
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The manufacture of vinyl (an organic chemical polymer) requires the addition of a variety of additives. They all undergo degradation and decomposition when exposed to heat and mechanical stress during formulation, molding or extrusion. All products made from polymers are degraded by light, heat, stress, and air pollution encountered in everyday use. For this reason, one or more toxic chemical stabilizers, such as lead, cadmium and phthalate are required for each type of plastic. Metal salts (like lead carbonate, etc.) don’t mix well into organic polymers and so tend to clump and migrate when subject to weathering direct sunlight and stress. For this reason, the stabilizer is expected to accumulate unevenly on the surface in normal use.

This has been found to be true for vinyl miniblinds.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has warned consumers about vinyl miniblinds. Most are made with a lead plastizer. The CPSC found that over time the plastic deteriorates from exposure to sunlight and heat to form dust on the surface of the blind. The amount of lead dust that formed from the deterioration varied from blind to blind. One of the items tested had hundreds of milligrams of lead per square foot. The same degradation might be associated with vinyl siding.

In the U.S. vinyl construction materials are responsible for almost 75% of all vinyl use. It is used as conduit, electrical wire insulation, flues, gutters, siding, flooring, fencing roofing, piping, windows, weather-strip, flashing, moldings, carpet fibers and wallpaper backing as well as for many consumer products including children’s’ lunch boxes. The vinyl that contains lead is widely used.


Lead stabilizers are released when they are formulated, used and disposed. "Potential lead releases from .. PVC must be viewed as a major potential health hazard"1.. Unfortunately the safer alternatives to lead plasticizers are often more expensive and are not widely used in manufacture. Most of the PVC is not made in the U.S. and is not as well regulated as it might be in the U.S. There are many articles available that discuss the need to remove lead as a plasticizer from PVC.


LeadCheck® Swabs are a very sensitive screening test that will detect the presence of lead in vinyl. To test for lead in a vinyl product

  1. Activate a LeadCheck Swab by crushing at the two places indicated on the barrel of the swab.
  2. Look for yellow liquid on the tip
  3. Rub activated swab over the test vinyl


Any pink color that appears on the test surface or the tip of the swab indicates the presence of lead. The color may be uneven due to the "clumping" of the inorganic salt. The color may become darker with time due to the "migration" of the inorganic "clumps" to the surface.

Additional information about testing for lead in lunch boxes can be found here

1. Thornton, Joe, Ph.D. article written for the Healthy Building Network, "Environmental Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Building Materials".