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  QUESTION: Do glass marbles sold in Canada in the early 1970s contain lead? 23 Mar 2004, Canada

I have a question about lead poisoning and I'm hoping that you can help to answer it. My question is, did the glass marbles that children used to play with in school yards contain lead back in the early seventies? If so, could a person have become poisoned by swallowing many of these marbles and how long would the lead remain in the body?

I know this seems like a strange question to ask, but a friend of mine used to eat a lot of these glass marbles when we were young. He has also struggled with an ADD type disorder all his life and I'm wondering whether there might be a connection. Assuming he was lead poisoned, what can be done to help him?
Thanks

ANSWER: 23 Mar 2004

Dear Jeff,

I'm sure that you could find out if glass marbles from that era contained lead by either asking marble manufacturers or importers or Health Canada (ph 6139572991 or email: [email protected]). See www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/protection/warnings/2001/2001_02e.htm which states "In Health Canada laboratories, products such as children's toys, jewellery and cosmetics are tested for any flammability and the potential chemical, mechanical and electrical hazards that they might pose." I'd recommend testing a couple of different coloured ones (separately), as it may be the pigment rather than the glass that is leaded. I presume you are not talking about the rare lead-glazed brown-bodied earthenware marbles referred to on a website which tells the fascinating history of marbles - http://marblealan.com/nonglass/ - as a lead glazed item is far more likely to cause lead poisoning if swallowed, than a leaded glass item.

If glass marbles do contain lead, then the following suggestion from www.cs.virginia.edu/~an4m/recipes/drinks would be a potential cause of lead poisoning if the marbles are left in the wine for more than a couple of hours:

"*5.8 STORING WINE AFTER IT'S OPENED - Get a bunch of glass marbles. Clean them, then put them in the bottle until the liquid is to the top, then cork."

The likely scenario is that, even if the marbles don't contain lead, anyone who puts marbles in their mouth and swallows them (ie has pica), more than likely puts other things in their mouth and swallows them. Lead is so common in consumer products and as an environmental contaminant, that any child with pica has a hugely increased risk of having lead poisoning. Even if the marbles passed through him without leaching lead into his stomach acid, other lead-containing edible items, especially paint chips or anything made of lead metal, could have been readily "digested" (broken down and absorbed). The half life of lead in bone is up to thirty years.

It would be interesting for your friend to have a blood lead test, just in case it is high. Otherwise, there is x-ray fluorescence, available from the following two links.

  1. Prof David Chettle, Professor, Medical Physics & Applied Radiation Sciences, Department of Physics and Astronomy, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, phone +1 905 525 9140 ext. 27340 http://www.science.mcmaster.ca/medphys/faculty/33-david-r-chettle.html  and co-researchers established in 1994 that bone XRF measurements are a reliable determination of bone lead concentrations both over the short and long term. He has also published papers on the use of XRF for heavy metal assessments and the association between the presence of bone disease and cumulative exposure to lead.
  2. Prof Howard Hu, Director and Professor of Public Health Sciences, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, phone +1 416 978 8989 http://www.dlsph.utoronto.ca/faculty-profile/howard-hu

 Kelly and Michael O'Grady's website (who founded "The First 6 Years" formerly known as Lead Environmental Awareness and Detection l.e.a.d.. See www.first6years.org/) has some excellent information about ways of assessing and treating lead poisoning (and poisoning from other heavy metals), including information on blood testing, urine provocation testing, HTMA, XRF and chelation. You can contact them for a list of doctors who do chelation in Ontario, at Pembroke Tel: (613) 735-0717 Email_Address 

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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