Popular brands of toys such as Barbie, Disney and Dora the Explorer had high levels of toxic lead in them, showed tests done by the California-based The Center for Environmental Health.
Lead causes mental and growth retardation in children. The findings are frightening for all parents, who often choose to buy more expensive toys in the belief that they would be free of health hazards such as lead poisoning. Taking away lead-containing toys from your children, however, will not make their environment free of lead.
Toys are just one more source of lead poisoning in India, where lead is found in commonly-used things such as lead pencils, house and furniture paint, batteries, water pipes, sealing cement (safeda), crystal glass, ceramic tableware and even vermilion used by women on their forehead.
Lead is a malleable metal previously used to improve the durability and lustre of paint used in homes and on steel structures, such as bridges. Among children, a common source of exposure is paint used on wooden and metal swings, slides and railings in playgrounds. This toxic metal damages the brain, nervous system, kidneys and reproductive system. Lead poisoning can also cause problems in pregnancy and can lead to retardation, stunting, learning and behaviour problems in young children.
Since the symptoms of lead poisoning are very generalised, parents should get the blood levels of lead in children tested at the first signs of anaemia, mineral deficiencies or symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomach cramps.
According to the World Health Organisation, 15 to 18 million children from developing countries suffer permanent brain damage due to lead poisoning. Regulation of lead in consumer products makes a difference. Studies have shown that after unleaded fuel was introduced in Delhi, lead levels in children’s blood dropped by half.
The most common source of lead is paint. A study done by the University of Cincinnati (UC) and published in the journal Environmental Research found over than 75 per cent of the consumer paint tested from countries without controls had levels exceeding US regulations. The UC team analysed 80 consumer paint samples of various brands from Asian countries and found paint from Singapore the safest.
You can protect children from lead poisoning by insisting on their washing up often to remove lead dust and soil. Keep your house dust-free, shun lead-based paints and keep the water running for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking or simply boiling it. Also avoid unpackaged foods, spices, clay pots and dishes, cosmetics and toys known to contain the toxic metal.