5 On Your Side

Lead Concerns Aren't Restricted to Toys

Posted November 20, 2007 6:21 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2007 7:17 p.m. EST

— One of the biggest worries for parents this holiday season is whether the toys they buy have dangerous levels of lead in them. But lead is in a lot of other things people probably have in the home.

When should people be concerned? The short answer, according to experts, is when it can be ingested.

Take old, peeling, lead-based paint. It's often in houses built before 1979, and it's the main cause of lead poisoning in children.

That’s why inspectors recently checked a house in Oxford before it sold. The "gun" they use for testing can check lead levels in all kinds of surfaces.

“We check all walls. We check the ceiling. If the floor's painted we do the floor, but most importantly, friction surfaces - the windows and doors,” said Britt Wester of Matrix Health & Safety.

Wester said windows and doors are most important to check. Since they open and close, the paint can rub off and create dust that children can ingest. Many vinyl mini-blinds made in mid-1990s also have lead.

“What makes the mini-blinds such a problem is they sit in the windows. They're exposed to the sunlight. They start to degrade and will produce a film as they degrade that basically has a lot of lead dust in it,” Wester said.

The danger is a child could ingest it. That's why toys are such a concern.

“In terms of the relative nature of the hazard, certainly lead-based paint on old homes that's starting to come off is a bigger hazard. But, you know, kids intentionally are playing with toys. They're mouthing them so it is a real concern. It's not something to be taken lightly,” said Ed Norman who heads North Carolina’s Lead Program.

Five on Your Side asked Wester to check out some random toys and baby items. Two registered higher lead levels than the Consumer Product Safety Commission allows.

Wester said given the readings, he would take both away from a child. The problem for parents is there’s no way to test every toy, and, according to Wester, there’s no consistency in which kinds of toys test positive and which do not.

Wester also checked several serving dishes. Two of the three tested positive, but Wester and other experts said they don’t see them as a serious threat.

“The likelihood that enough lead would leach out in the time you're using it is extremely low,” Wester said.

The sink they tested was loaded with lead, but was of little concern.

“Every time we test those, they're pretty much off the chart. And again, it's in the glazing and unless it's cracked and peeling and in bad shape, it's not a problem,” Wester said.

As long as lead isn't coming off a product - either peeling or in dust - where it can be ingested, and it can't be chewed off, the experts said it's not a major concern.

A number of WRAL viewers have asked about pet toys. Several that 5 on Your Side tested did not have lead. However, others do. An expert from N.C. State's Vet school said pets aren't as sensitive to lead as children are, although they can experience neurological problems from it.