Why is lead paint in toys so bad?

You’ve heard all about lead paint and how it’s bad for you. You may even have returned a recalled toy for lead paint content. But how well do you really understand the issue? Here’s a basic guide to the dangers of lead paint and what you can do about it.

Lead paint made headlines some months ago after a massive recall was ordered on China-made toys containing the product. But few people really understand the dangers of lead paint, and even keep on buying lead-containing products just because they’re cheaper. But why is lead paint so bad anyway? And if it’s that bad, why was it used in toys in the first place? Read on for answers to some of the most common questions about lead and lead paint.

What is it?

Lead is a heavy metal used in many industrial products, including paint. Lead paint is paint that contains a significant amount of lead; that is, enough lead to cause damage upon exposure (supposedly safe amounts of lead are found in some commercial paints). Adding lead to paint makes it more durable, faster drying, and more resistant to moisture. Lines on roads and runways are painted with lead paint to improve visibility.

Lead was banned in all commercial products in the United States in 1978, but lead containing toys produced before the ban are still found in some households. Lead is still used commercially in some countries, so imported products containing lead paint can also make it to the shelves.

Whatdoes it do?

Despite its commercial benefits, lead causes a wide array of health problems including nerve damage, kidney infections, reproductive disease, and digestive problems. It is most dangerous in children below 6 years old who are still in their developmental stage, as it can cause stunted growth, developmental problems, and learning difficulties.

So why is it used on toys?

Although lead-painted toys have been mostly banned, there is no ban on the use of lead in plastics. Lead helps soften plastic and make it more elastic, so that it goes back to its original shape when pulled. It also makes plastic more resistant to heat, allowing plastic toys to withstand constant washing and sun exposure.

How are children exposed to lead?

A common misconception about lead paint is that children ingest it by eating lead paint chips. Although it’s possible, the usual route is through the lead dust that gets dislodged from the paint during handling. Lead dust can easily coat a child’s hand and be ingested through hand-to-mouth contact. A less common path is through the air, although airborne lead dust usually comes from large-scale remodeling rather than small toys.

How do I know if a toy contains lead?

Lead in toys is invisible and odorless, making it nearly impossible to detect without laboratory testing. There are do-it-yourself lead testing kits available, but most of them only detect the presence of lead and not the amount contained. They may also be inaccurate in detecting low amounts of lead. Only certified labs can accurately test for lead content in toys. To see if one of your toys contains lead, look up the recall list on the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) website. If it’s on the list, take it away immediately and call your store or manufacturer to have it replaced or refunded.

What do I do if my child has been exposed?

If you suspect your child has been exposed to lead-containing toys, remove the toy at once and take them to the doctor for testing, even before they exhibit symptoms. Most cases of lead poisoning produce no symptoms in the first few stages, so don’t wait until they start complaining. A blood lead test will determine whether your child has been exposed; if it’s positive, treatment should start immediately.

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