Toddlers learn by putting things in their mouths. If your child has gnawed most of the paint off a toy, or if old paint is peeling off a low windowsill in the playroom, you may well want to have your child's blood tested.
During August, Mattel recalled nearly 19 million Chinese-made toys, suspected of containing either lead or small magnets posing a choking hazard for children. Although the recall was based on Mattel's initiative, not on a particular consumer complaint, many of the recalled toys have been in the hands of children for months. One lawsuit has already been started in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to have Mattel pay for blood testing for all children who have been exposed to potentially defective toys.
Dr. John Rosen, a New York lead poisoning specialist, recommends that if a child has been playing with a recalled toy for a month or more, parents should consider taking the child in for a blood test. He says: "My suggestion to parents is be safe and not sorry."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead is the leading environmental hazard for pre-school age children. The biggest culprit in these poisonings is lead-based paint found in older housing.
Lead-based paint for use in households was banned in 1978. But young children are still living in more than 4 million older U.S. homes that contain deteriorating lead paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust. Health officials estimate that about 310,000 U.S. children aged 1 to 5 have blood lead levels high enough to warrant treatment or other measures.
READ MORE LEGAL NEWSKathleen Cooper, senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, says: "Children will absorb 50 percent of lead ingested, as opposed to adults who absorb only 10 percent. As well, children will keep it in their bodies, where adults will store it in bones and teeth."
Children's saliva breaks down the lead so that it can be absorbed into the blood. And even at low levels, lead poisoning can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired heard, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavior problems.
Lead poisoning can also lead to death. In 2006 a 4-year-old Minnesota boy died after swallowing a metal heart-shaped pendant. The pendant had been attached to a bracelet given as a "free gift" on purchase of a pair of sneakers.
Later lab testing showed the pendant to be 99% pure lead.