Lead with lunch

The lunchbox you send your child to school with may be putting lead in your child’s lunch

You might carefully choose the foods to send your child to school with. You probably shop for food that doesn’t expose your child to toxic chemicals. What a shame it would be, then, to find that the lunchbox your child uses is itself a potential source of toxicity.

But that may indeed be the case. In August, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a partner organization of Generation Green, announced their legal action against makers and retailers of various soft vinyl lunchboxes that could expose children to harmful levels of lead. The legal action against companies includes Toys ‘R’ Us, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Mervyn’s and others. These lunchboxes involve such characters as Superman, Tweety Bird, Powerpuff Girls, and Hamtaro.

How bad is the problem? CEH commissioned independent laboratory testing that has already found 24 lunchboxes with high lead levels. The level of lead in one lunchbox, an Angela Anaconda box made by Targus International, tested at 56,400 parts per million (ppm) of lead, more than 90 times the 600 ppm legal limit for lead in paint in children’s products. Tests on other lunchboxes so far have elicited levels of lead between two and 25 times that same legal limit for lead paint.

The lining of the lunchboxes has been where some of the highest lead levels were found, which is disturbing since that is where the food is most likely to have direct contact with the lunchbox. Lead is known to be harmful to children even in minute amounts, as it can impair brain development and cause other behavioral and developmental problems. Many scientists believe there is no safe level of lead exposure for kids.

As CEH points out, the levels found in the lunchboxes aren’t high enough by themselves to cause acute lead poisoning during normal use. However, since lead accumulates in the body, experts agree that all lead exposures should be minimized. CEH is concerned about lead in lunchboxes, and so are we, because there are many sources of lead in the world. Many children come into contact with multiple sources of lead in their daily lives, including sources most parents would never think could be a problem.

Despite the CEH testing, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has failed to take any action. Even worse, CPSC says they tested lunchboxes, but they won’t say how many they have tested, and they won’t release their results. They claim their testing shows that lunchboxes alone won’t cause lead poisoning. But they don’t address the issue of multiple lead exposures. And with so many alternative materials available, it would be easy for manufacturers to avoid lead threats in our children’s lunch.

It is important to eliminate all controllable sources of lead exposure, including lunchboxes, to ensure the health and well-being of our families, and the CPSC can help with that.

For more information, visit CEH’s Web site at www.cehca.org. You can also find more information at www.generationgreen.org/actionalertinfo/leadlunch.htm.

From the Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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