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Lead: Celebrate its ban, but don't cross it off your list

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Like many parents, I spent a lot of last year feeling outraged by the (literally) 45 million toy recalls, especially the lead paint. It seemed like every day I read about another contaminated children’s product. Lead is a known neurotoxin to young children that was banned 30 years ago for residential use in the U.S., yet here it was, topping my ‘avoid it’ list 30 years later. Huh?

So by November ’07 I was so mad that I gathered up a bunch of recalled toys from friends and delivered them to my U.S. Congressman and Senators – in baby gift bags, with a note. We suggested that they do something – effective and fast - to improve the safety of children’s products. And - somewhat amazingly – this August, they did. They signed a new product safety bill that not only banned lead but phthalates, too. Impressive.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one raising my angry parental voice over this one. Among others, the Consumers Union’s Not In My Cart campaign motivated many activists and summarizes the new law well. They also credit us activists with making it happen. As they reported:

The president has just signed into law one of the most significant product and toy safety reform bills in almost two decades, and you helped make it happen. Activists sent more than 400,000 emails, made countless phone calls and visited members of Congress urging them to pass the bill.

And Congress listened, overwhelming passing the bill with only four ‘no’ votes out of 535 members. Yet big industry was up against a bigger force--the American consumer. You didn’t have the deep pockets or the access, but you had a voice, and you worked for months to let your lawmakers know you wanted them to do the right thing.

So possibly I’m just feeling self congratulatory. But I find this voice-of-the-voter feedback heartening. It helps me believe that when we feel really, very, super strongly about protecting our children, we can prevail. Until we hear that prenatal, women’s and children’s multivitamins contain lead, that is. A ban one week, another scary announcement the next. Call me crazy, but I’m still not feeling very confident, you know?

You can read all about the FDA’s recent vitamin survey here (including brand-by-brand results) and get a quick parent perspective here. The difference with this case is that the vitamins most likely contain lead because it often exists naturally near calcium sources, though the actual source of lead in the 324 vitamins tested is unclear. Doesn’t reduce the adverse health effects, doesn’t increase my trust in labels, but at least the data is in so we can toss the leaded vitamins out. The lead levels may not exceed FDA thresholds, but they exceed California’s and my own zero tolerance approach. Learn about the adverse health effects of lead here and ways to minimize exposure here.

Oh! I almost forgot. Do you wear lipstick?