LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 4 no 3 Winter ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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PVC Miniblinds: the Australian Scene

On 25th June alert viewers reported to the NSW Community Lead Advisory Service (NSW CLAS) that the American news on Channel 7 had stated that dust on miniblinds was tested randomly in the homes of lead-poisoned children and found to have high lead content.

On 3rd July 1996, Greenpeace alerted Australians to the fact that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission warning on lead in PVC miniblinds was also relevant in Australia. On national television Michael Bland of Greenpeace in Sydney using a lead check test kit demonstrated the dramatic colour change indicating the presence of lead in locally purchased PVC miniblinds.

Australian Federal and State consumer protection agencies were asked by Greenpeace to lab test the blinds to determine the risks of lead poisoning for consumers. The agencies were also put on notice regarding the huge tonnage of PVC miniblinds that would require safe disposal should there be a recall, and were asked for an estimate of the number of miniblinds sold in Australia to date.

NSW CLAS was deluged by calls from anxious parents describing a number of high potential risk situations such as, the PVC miniblinds were:

  • located over the kitchen food preparation area, on a north-west facing window, in a home where residents had been experiencing symptoms similar to those of lead poisoning;

  • beside the bed of a develop-mentally delayed three year old boy with marked hand-to-mouth activity;

  • above the bed of a toddler who regularly played with them.

On July 10th Spotlight announced a recall of the 250,000 PVC miniblinds sold by the national Spotlight chain of stores in the last 5 years. Spotlight also agreed to accept PVC miniblinds not sold by them, as a down payment on replacement custom-made Holland or wooden blinds.

Spotlight also promised to stock non-leaded blinds by mid-August 1996.

In the meantime, CLAS Project Officers organised for some callers to post their PVC miniblinds for free laboratory testing by state consumer agencies and eventually received copies of the results.

The lead content of the blinds tested ranged between 0.8% and 1.9% by dry weight. To give a comparison when lead paint contains more than 0.5% lead it is regarded as a hazard by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which should be removed. However, no action level for lead in paint exists in Australia and no standard limits the acceptable amount of lead in plastics. Even the Australian Standard for additives for food contact plastics does not list lead as a restricted additive.

This left the Australian authorities with no standard against which to compare the results. Instead they promised further assessment of leachable lead levels and the rate of PVC deterioration in UV light.

Finally, the Australian Environmental Health Directors' Forum on the 30th July 1996, stated:

"While the PVC miniblinds do have a potential to contribute to childhood exposures to lead, they are only one of a number of potential indoor sources including paint, wall-paper and normal household dust.

"There is insufficient health evidence that the contribution to the total lead burden is such that would warrant recall of these products."

The Queensland Minister for Justice "warned parents of young children to take down their PVC venetian blinds as a health precaution".

In response to callers queries about how to dispose of the PVC miniblinds consumers were being advised to take down, CLAS reiterated to the NSW Department of Fair Trading, the question about safe disposal and further asked about recycling possibilities. CLAS was referred to the Plastics and Chemicals Industry Association whose representative made the point that it would be very difficult to prove PVC miniblinds were responsible for a lead poisoning case. Possible PVC miniblind recyclers are Cryogrind, the PVC recycler in Melbourne and ARA, a lead recycler in Sydney. To be continued...

Also see: lead poisoning hazard consumer product recalls

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Last Updated 26 November 2012
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