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QUESTION: Data on lead in crimp beads, spacers, clasps for jewellery, in PVC miniblinds & lunch bags 24 Jan 2008 Victoria, Australia

To whom it may concern, If possible could I please get some info on lead content in costume jewelry. I use different clasps, spacers and crimps to make jewelry and am worried about what pieces could contain lead. I have purchased plastic venetians from spotlight only last year, do these still contain lead or after the recall in 1996 did spotlight stop selling these types.

I have also purchased soft sided cooler lunch bags for my children and am wondering if these types of bags contain PVC/Lead. Thanking you for bringing these issues to everyone's attention. I think people just dont understand the dangers about lead or are unaware and a website like this one is an asset to all. Keep up the good work. Thanks, Clarissa Gorman.

ANSWER: 24 Jan 2008

Hi Clarissa,

Thanks for all your kind feedback and for your thoughtful questions.

The answers may be a lot more complex than you expected!!

The simple answer is that The LEAD Group has NO DATA on lead in PVC miniblinds or lunch bags or in metal or glass or ceramic or PVC jewellery componentry such as beads, crimp beads, spacers, clasps, wires, fishing line etc. The reason is that none of these items are covered by ANY standard unless the final made-up jewellery or the jewellery-making kit itself is sold as a "toy" for children (the age is not clearly defined in the toy standard although under 6 year olds are seen as in most need of protection from heavy metals) AND, because it costs lots of money to test products for lead (and other heavy metals) in a lab.

After I left a phone message asking for lab results from Spotlight re leaded PVC miniblinds and didn't hear from them for 3 hours, I rang again and was advised "All our miniblinds are imported and as far as we're aware no leaded products are allowed through Customs but I'll have to check up about lab results and get back to you." According to the Australian Customs Service (ph Help Desk 1300558099) "If the importer has not complied with Australian Standards then they are responsible for lead content. The onus is on the importer & if there's no current standard then I'd ask Standards Australia who can I contact to see what is an acceptable lead level in the product, for instance, miniblinds. The Prohibited Imports and Exports list does not list miniblinds in regard to lead content. Only items on the list would be sent to a lab by Customs for testing."

I know from previous inquiries that the lab used by Customs for lead testing is AGAL (Australian Govt. Analytical Laboratories), National Measurement Institute in Sydney, phone 02 9449 0111. That is the lab I shall refer Spotlight to if they ask where their imported miniblinds could be tested for lead.

When I rang Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) Product Safety section (phone 03 8684 6284) they said they have not tested PVC lunch bags or jewellery components for lead and have not found lead above toy standard (Part 3) limits in the toys or face paints or children's cosmetics that they have tested to date.

When I phoned Kerry Ashbolt, Assistant Director, Product Safety Policy Section, Consumer Affairs Section, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) (phone 02 6243 1262), her answers (paraphrased below from my contemporaneous notes) to all my questions on your behalf were not inspiring of confidence:

"we haven't tested PVC miniblinds because we were advised many yrs ago by CPSC [US Consumer Product Safety Commission] that there was no lead in miniblinds but files are marked for destruction after 5 yrs so I can't provide that evidence. Lunchbags we have not tested, nor jewellery parts. It is the importer's or wholesaler's responsibility to test & ACCC carries out a regular market survey program but these results are not published and because we have found no lead in any toy we have not instigated any recalls and I am not in a position to say what percentage of toy products on the market have been tested for lead and I do not know why there have been dozens of toy products recalled in the US for lead hazards in the same period that only a handful of toy products have been recalled in Australia for lead hazards."

The CPSC still have the 25th June 1996 media release "CPSC Finds Lead Poisoning Hazard for Young Children in Imported Vinyl Miniblinds" on their website at www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/PRHTML96/96150.html which states, inter alia:

"Some of the vinyl blinds had a level of lead in the dust that would not be considered a health hazard, while others had very high levels," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. parents with young children should remove these vinyl miniblinds from their homes."

CPSC asked the Window Covering Safety Council, which represents the industry, to immediately change the way it produces vinyl miniblinds by removing the lead added to stabilize the plastic in these blinds. Manufacturers have made the change and new miniblinds without added lead should appear on store shelves beginning around July 1 and should be widely available over the next 90 days.
[END OF EXTRACT FROM CPSC MEDIA RELEASE]

My sense, is that the day must come when importers and government agencies can no longer pass the responsibility around in a circle and there are standards for all consumer products and that lead will be eradicated from more and more products (as is happening in the toy, children's jewellery, computer, electronics and automotive industries overseas).

The only way that such changes will come to Australia is through consumer demand and cases being exposed via the media.

What we need is millions of parents demanding from every store where they buy products for their children, that the store provide a lab result for every suspect toy on heavy metals testing according to the toy standard. You can also try asking for lab results for items that are not toys, like lunch boxes and miniblinds, and the store or the manufacturer or importer has their reputation to protect if you spread the word that they have not provided results. This is how change happens.

The only other route to a change in the market place (ie a change to more info about heavy metals in products that children are exposed to and fewer children's products that contain heavy metals) is when enough parents ask the doctor to test their child's blood lead level. From what is now known about lead at low blood lead levels, any result above 2 micrograms per decilitre should then be investigated by the state health department to determine the lead sources. After testing lead in the obvious sources like dust, soil and accessible paint, then less usual sources would need to be tested: child-accessible consumer products, food, water, folk medicines, etc.

In the real world, the best state health department response in Australia (in Esperance in WA) happens at 5 micrograms per decilitre (5  g/dL), while in Mt Isa Queensland the response level is 10 micrograms per decilitre (10 g/dL), in NSW, TAS and QLD generally the response level is by regulation 15 micrograms per decilitre (15 g/dL) and in all other states and territories you or your doctor has to request the health department to respond at all.

Practically every month more research is published to confirm that the "acceptable" blood lead level of 10 micrograms per decilitre, is simply no longer acceptable. The latest example is a study [Low Blood Lead Levels Associated with Clinically Diagnosed  Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Mediated by Weak Cognitive Control by Joel T. Nigg, G. Mark Knottnerus, Michelle M. Martel, Molly Nikolas, Kevin Cavanagh, Wilfried Karmaus, Marsha D. Rappley, Biological Psychiatry, Volume 63, Issue 3 , Pages 325-331, 1 February 2008] which examined the relationship in children between lead exposure and ADHD. A total of 150 children with and without ADHD had at least some lead in their blood, although none had levels higher than the 10 micrograms per deciliter level (i.e., the level currently considered unsafe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Blood lead levels were statistically significantly higher in children with ADHD than those without the disorder. See www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/bps/article/PIIS0006322307006750/abstract

So the best advice is to have your children's blood lead levels tested in case this can invoke government testing of the items you are asking about, and the second option is to ask the retailer for the results of lab tests they or the importer, wholesaler or manufacturer have carried out.

The only other option is to pay for testing of the most concerning items yourself eg if any of your children is sucking or chewing on jewellery that you have made or purchased or the lunchbox or if they are at risk of dust inhalation or ingestion from the miniblinds then you can collect a dust wipe and test it for lead. We have put together a kit for the purpose ,of testing for lead and including the lab costs, it costs $250 for 8 samples to be tested. The samples can be a variety of types - dust wipe, whole toy, crimp bead, water, paint chip, soil etc. See Do It Yourself Lead Safe Test Kits

Please let me know how you go. I shall also ask our Lead in Consumer Products Volunteer Researcher to add any further suggestions she may have to this answer.

Kind regards

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

See: lead poisoning hazard consumer product recalls

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