Record numbers of Chinese-made toys have been recalled due to the presence of unsafe levels of toxic lead paint. And neither the government nor the toy industry has inspired confidence that they've removed all unsafe toys from the shelves leaving many parents looking to take matters into their own hands with at-home lead test kits.
And no wonder. Lead can attack the brain at critical stages of development, in utero or in early childhood, causing permanent brain damage, lowered IQ and possibly even a tendency toward violent behavior. Approximately 310,000 U.S. children between the ages of one and five have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. At that level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents take action to identify and reduce exposure.
If you're concerned about the safety of toys in your home, and you're the type of parent who wants to take matters into your own hands, good. But be wary. Many at-home lead test kits won't help you get to the truth. They might scare you unnecessarily, or give you false confidence.
The CPSC found all at-home test kits "unreliable". It recommends that parents refrain from using them.
Of the 104 test kits evaluated , 56 more than half failed to detect lead when present. Two detected lead that wasn't there. None consistently detected subsurface lead covered by a nonlead coating.
"Based on the study consumers should not use lead test kits to evaluate consumer products for potential lead hazards," the CPSC warned. "Testing by a qualified laboratory and trained personnel is the only way to accurately assess the potential risk posed by a consumer product that may contain lead."
In a more limited, study, however, Consumers Union the publishers of Consumer Reports found three of five home lead-testing kits were a useful screening tool for careful parents.
These tests reliably changed color when coming into contact with lead on the surface of products (though they can take as long as two hours to reveal results).
One showed some tendency toward "false negatives" that would fail to alert you to lead that is present. The other tended to deteriorate before it could complete a test.
For more important details about each product and the test results, see Testing the Lead Test Kits, in the Consumer Reports blog.
Testing your toys for lead isn't the only step you can take as a parent. Here are four other important tips:
Seek guidance from a local health department for more detailed information, or visit this Environmental Protection Agency Website.
The damage to the brain can be irreversible, so early diagnosis of elevated blood level is critical if parents are to take necessary steps to reduce or eliminate the exposure.
A child with an iron deficiency can absorb up to 50% more lead than one with adequate iron in the diet. Good sources of iron include fortified cereals, meat, legumes, prunes, raisins and green leafy vegetables, and iron is best absorbed by the body if consumed with foods high in vitamin C. Similarly, as calcium intake increases, the body absorbs less lead, so diets high in calcium are important for children exposed to lead.
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