March 22, 2013

EPA Continues to Ignore the Dangers of Lead for Children

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set hazard standards for levels of lead, the measure of which is critical to children’s health. Despite calls from the agency’s science advisors, says USA Today, the federal body has no plans to revise those outdated standards.

As we have written, the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention says no amount of lead in a child’s body is safe. Children’s developing organs are especially vulnerable to lead; it can compromise intelligence, and cause behavioral problems, impaired hearing, coma, convulsions and death.

Older and/or deteriorating houses pose a heightened exposure risk, as do homes undergoing renovation, thanks to the lead content of paint chips, dust and soil contaminated by leaded gasoline.

In response to the EPA’s sloth, Howard Mielke, a soil contamination expert at Tulane University’s medical school told USA Today, “It's outrageous we aren't acting on what we know.”

A year ago, the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee asked then-administrator Lisa Jackson for “immediate and urgent attention” to several recommendations about lead poisoning, including revising the lead dust standards.

Yet its lead standard for house dust remains under review, and, says USA Today, seems to be years away. The agency told the paper earlier this month that no action is being taken to revise hazard standards for soil either. Compare with a California health model, the federal standard allows five times more lead in play areas than what’s required to protect children from losing one IQ point.

The standards are applied in home inspections for lead paint residues and when yard and playground soil is tested for contamination from paint, industrial sources or particles from when vehicles burned leaded gasoline.

“We have thousands of risk assessors around the country determining whether you have risks and using clearance standards that are outdated," Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, told USA Today. “They matter to consumers as a right-to-know issue: If you're told your home is safe and in fact it's not.”

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its standard for children’s lead blood levels. It cut by half the amount that should trigger public health actions.

According to USA Today, some 500,000 U.S. children have a blood-lead level of at least 5, the CDC's new standard, although the agency and its scientific advisers emphasized that there is no safe level.

In 2009, the EPA received a petition from several consumer and children’s health organizations to lower the lead standards. The agency doesn't expect to change anything until September 2014.

And nothing’s happening in terms of soil contamination. The EPA's hazard standard for bare soil where children play, says USA Today, is 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead. The California model’s standard is 80 ppm.

Only a tiny amount of ingested lead dust can poison a child. A packet of artificial sweetener contains 1 gram of powder. A microgram is one-millionth of that amount, and swallowing just 6 micrograms of lead particles a day over about three months can raise a child's blood-lead level by up to 1 point and affect cognitive function.

Bruce Lanphear, a medical researcher who studies sources of lead in children's bodies and has served on EPA advisory panels told USA Today, "In every instance, the [EPA] standards are based less on science and more on what the feds though was feasible."

If you want to pressure the EPA to accept the science, tighten the standards and protect children from the insidious effects of lead poisoning, contact your congressional representatives. Find there here.

Read more about protecting children from lead paint poisoning, and watch a video, on the Patrick Malone law firm website.

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October 19, 2012

Is It Safe for Pregnant Women to Eat Fish?

Americans are conflicted about fish. Some of us like to catch them, some of us like to release them and many of us eat them. Health professionals say that fish is good for us (it’s high in protein, most varieties are low in fat and many have heart-healthy properties), that we should eat more. Others take care to note that some varieties of fish are particularly prone to toxic exposure to mercury.

So what’s a pregnant woman to do, especially in light of a new study that shows that a prospective mom’s fish-rich diet can offer protection against the child later developing behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Especially in light of the Journal of the American Medical Association’s advice (JAMA) that for pregnant women, mothers who are breastfeeding and women of childbearing age, fish consumption is important for its DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that aids infant brain development?

The new study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, involved children born during the 1990s in Massachusetts; 515 women who had just given birth completed a dietary survey and about 420 provided samples of their hair for mercury testing. About eight years later, researchers tested the kids to assess behaviors associated with ADHD.

The results, as reported on ScienceNews.org, ranged from children with almost no ADHD-related behaviors to some with clear clinical disease. The mother’s hair-mercury level related to where her child fell along the spectrum.

The data, the researchers said, demonstrate that a woman can eat fish regularly, but also maintain a low-mercury diet. “It really depends on the type of fish that you’re eating,” one of the authors told ScienceNews. Some study participants had been eating more than two servings of fish weekly but tested for relatively little mercury.

Like lead, mercury is a potent neurotoxin that has been linked to many health problems, including delays in neural development. To see our post about the toxic nature of lead, click here.

In the study, children of women with hair mercury levels in the top 20 percent of those tested showed a 50 to 60 percent increased risk of ADHD-related behaviors. But the kids with ADHD-related traits “were still considered to be within the normal range,” the researcher said, “and not maladaptive.” (On some components of the childrens’ assessment for attention, boys showed a greater sensitivity to mercury than girls.)

Other studies have reached similar results. One based in Canada, according to ScienceNews, found an association between elevated mercury concentrations in children at birth and at school age, and an increased risk of ADHD by about age 11. That study also confirmed earlier evidence suggesting a link between lead and ADHD.

Some studies, however, indicate a genetic susceptibility to ADHD in some people. Environmental pollutants, too, are considered by some people to be risk factors. They include tobacco smoke and possibly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), certain pesticides and bisphenol A (BPA).

The new study didn’t collect data on the species of fish the mothers ate. But its researchers said that previous studies have shown that tuna, swordfish and shark can be particularly high in mercury; salmon and cod tend to be relatively low in the toxic metal.

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January 9, 2012

Panel Says There Is No "Safe" Amount of Lead in Children's Bodies

Even though the number of lead poisoning cases is declining, the toxic metal remains a problem, particularly for children, as we have written about numerous times, most recently last week.

A federal panel, the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention, recently expressed its concern about blood levels in children by advocating for a lower acceptable threshold.

If adopted, it would be the first time in 20 years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowers the standard. The CDC has never failed to accept a panel advisory.

Lower blood level standards, as reported on the Huffington Post, would result in hundreds of thousands more children diagnosed with lead poisoning. The new blood level for children would be 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter versus the previous value of 10 micrograms.

Lead used to be a common component of paint and gasoline, but the metal has long been banned in the manufacture of both.

Children’s developing organs are particularly vulnerable to lead, especially the brain and kidneys. Depending on the blood level, lead can cause reduced intelligence, behavioral problems, impaired hearing, coma, convulsions and death.

Children often are exposed if they live in old, deteriorating homes or those undergoing renovation. The delivery systems include paint chips, lead-filled dust and soil contaminated by leaded gasoline.

As the panel’s report made clear, all children are at risk: “New findings suggest that the adverse health effects of BLLs [blood lead levels] less than 10 μg/dL in children extend beyond cognitive function to include cardiovascular, immunological, and endocrine effects. Additionally, such effects do not appear to be confined to lower socioeconomic status populations.

“Primary prevention is a strategy that emphasizes the prevention of lead exposure, rather than a response to exposure after it has taken place. Primary prevention is necessary because the effects of lead appear to be irreversible.”

Lowering the acceptable lead level in blood is a welcome adjustment for childrens’ advocates, who say that medical evidence has been mounting that even lower levels of lead poisoning can erode a child's ability to learn and cause behavior problems.

"This is long overdue," Ruth Ann Norton told the Huffington Post. She’s executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore.

The challenge in implementing the panel’s recommendations lies in the languishing economy. Many city and county health departments are responsible for providing services for lead-poisoned kids, and according to the Huffington Post, those departments have lost more than 34,000 jobs in the last three years because of budget cuts. And Congress has slashed the CDC's lead program from more than $30 million to $2 million.

Parents should be aware of the advisory panel’s recommendations for monitoring lead blood levels in children. If your ob/gyn and pediatrician don’t broach the subject, you should. The panel advises:


  • Primary prevention must start with counseling, including prenatal if possible. This includes recommending environmental assessments for children before screening BLLs in children at risk for lead exposure.

  • After confirmatory testing, children above the reference value of 5 μg/dL must continue to be monitored for BLLs and assessed for iron deficiency and general nutrition (for example, calcium and vitamin C levels) consistent with American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines.

  • Iron-deficient children should be provided with iron supplements. All BLL test results should be communicated to families in a timely and appropriate manner.

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January 2, 2012

Unusual Sources of Lead Poisoning for Parents to Watch Out For

Although significant strides have been made toward eliminating the threat of lead poisoning, the National Capital Poison Center points out that it is still a problem, especially for children.

Symptoms of lead poisoning can range from the relatively mild—abdominal discomfort—to the dire—seizures, coma and death. Children exposed to too much lead also can have lower IQ scores, difficulty with reading and math and behavioral problems including attention deficit disorders and delinquency.

Because some sources of the deadly metal are unexpected, the Poison Center has enumerated certain products for which parents should be especially watchful. They are:


  • Jewelry and Cosmetics. Some imported cosmetics have been contaminated with lead, including kohl (used as eye liner) and sindoor (a red scalp powder).

  • Imported medicines, traditional medicines and folk remedies. Azarcon and greta are used to treat empacho (stomach symptoms); both contain a substantial amount of lead. In one study, 64 percent of herbal medicines from India contained lead, which also shows up in folk remedies for arthritis, infertility, cramps and colic. Contaminated medicines might have been imported, or purchased overseas and brought into the U.S. by consumers.

  • Imported food and candy. Tamarind candy and candy wrappers from Mexico have been contaminated with lead. Several spices and food products imported from India have been contaminated with lead.

  • Bullets, lead pellets and hobby items. Licking bullets, swallowing lead pellets or shot or breathing fumes from melted lead for fishing weights can cause lead poisoning.

  • Household items. Children have been poisoned by lead when acidic foods were stored or served on imported ceramic dishware and pitchers—acid promotes the leaching of lead from the ceramic glaze into the food. Lead poisoning has resulted from contaminated plastic mini-blinds. Curtain weights may contain lead. Antique cribs and furniture may be sources of lead-based paint.

Any lead is too much lead: There is no “normal” blood level. Children with lead exposure often complain of stomach pain, are fussy, can’t concentrate and have diminished appetite. The only way to diagnose lead poisoning is by a blood test.

To minimize the chances of your child being exposed to lead:


  • Do not purchase inexpensive metal jewelry for children. In addition to lead, some also contain the toxic metal cadmium.

  • Verify the source and safety of imported cosmetics and medicines, especially traditional and folk medicines, or don’t use them.

  • Don’t allow children to lick or suck on hobby materials including bullets, pellets, fishing sinkers.

  • Do not use imported ceramic plates, pitchers, etc. to store or serve food. Use them for decoration only.

  • Replace old, plastic mini-blinds.

  • If you live in a building constructed before the 1980s, consider having the paint tested for lead content, and also consider getting free lead blood screening tests for any children in the house. Here is more information from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission on lead in housing.


To address concerns or questions about lead or the treatment of lead poisoning, call 800-222-1222. Local poison center experts answer phone call 24 hours a day.

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September 23, 2011

Baltimore Research Institute Sued for Exposing Children to Lead

Here’s a “does this still happen in America?” moment: A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a Baltimore hospital for letting children be exposed to high levels of lead as part of a study.

According to AboutLawsuits.com, the subjects involved in the Kennedy Krieger Institute study in the 1990s were poor, minority children living in homes with high levels of toxic lead paint. Researchers wanted to observe the health effects, and failed to inform the parents that their children might be at risk.

Lead paint is toxic. It can cause irreversible brain damage, growth retardation, coma and other serious problems. We drew this ugly picture a couple of years ago. Although it was banned more than 30 years ago, many old and/or poorly maintained homes contain flaking paint that can cause lead poisoning if it is eaten or sucked on, as youngsters are prone to do.

In the study, some families were moved into homes with less lead contamination, and others were allowed to remain in lead paint-contaminated homes without being told about the health effects or the lead levels. The plaintiffs claim that Kennedy Krieger selected poor and minority test subjects to stay in contaminated homes, while generally selecting white and more affluent children as those to be moved into safer homes.

On its website, Kennedy Krieger says it’s dedicated “to helping children and adolescents with disorders of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system achieve their potential and participate as fully as possible in family, school and community life.” It’s a nonprofit hospital and research institute whose Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Repair and Maintenance Study began in 1993. The objective was to find affordable ways to reduce the risk of lead-paint poisoning for children living in older homes and apartments.

Institute officials deny that they targeted poor and minority children to remain in contaminated homes, and say that the study has led to vast improvements in lead-based paint abatement policies. The study was conducted in 13 cities nationwide and sanctioned by the federal government. Kennedy Krieger officials say it led to a 93% drop in the number of lead poisoning cases in Baltimore.

According to AboutLawsuits, the institute has settled several claims out of court, and in 2001, the Maryland Court of Appeal ruled that Kennedy Krieger officials knew that some families were living in homes with dangerous levels of lead contamination and knew the children there were suffering from elevated blood lead levels, but failed to inform those families that their children had elevated levels of lead in their blood in a timely manner.

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March 25, 2011

Maryland lab destroys documentation on lead poisoning of children

Maryland’s Department of Health destroyed test results from the 1980s documenting lead poisoning of Maryland children — potentially thousands of records that are crucial to pursuing lawsuits seeking damages on behalf of lead-poisoned children and their families.

“We regret this, and we’re going to do everything possible to make it right,” said Maryland health secretary Joshua Sharfstein. Since learning of the destroyed files, Sharfstein has:

Asked for an investigation of how the destruction of records happened.

Replaced the lab’s director.

Ordered that efforts be made to recover whatever test results might have been deleted from state computer files.

Since the 1980s, physicians and health clinics in Maryland have had to report test results showing that children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The state Department of Health maintained those test results for years and provided them on request to people who had been tested, their parents or their attorneys.

Attorneys say the records are critical to the hundreds of pending lead-poisoning cases. “If in fact the records are permanently gone,” one attorney said, “it will just make it impossible for some citizens in Baltimore to pursue cases.”

The revelation of the destroyed files comes more than a week after reports that the Baltimore City Health Department had lost federal lead abatement money for failing to meet treatment targets.

Sharfstein, who took over the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in January, acted promptly to halt the practice and restore any results that can be restored.

“We are not destroying any more records. We are preserving records. We are going back and reconstructing databases and doing everything possible” to find and replace the lost test results, Sharfstein said. “Regardless of whether the department has a legal obligation to maintain these records, we intend to do so.”

Source: The Baltimore Sun

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March 1, 2011

Republicans aim to cut financing for toy hazard database

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act after a flood of unsafe toys from China hit the U.S. market. Less than three years later, however, the new Republican-led House of Representatives wants to roll back those protections by cutting $3 million in financing for a database where consumers could report product hazards and the public could check products before buying them.

It also wants to scale back back the requirement for third-party testing for lead and other hazards in products sold to children, while some GOP representatives have even proposed limiting the new protections to products for children under 6 or 7, rather than up to 12 years of age.

As part of this latest campaign against government regulation, some businesses warn that (a) the hazard database would open the door to bogus charges and lawsuits; (b) third-party testing of children’s products is too costly; and (c) some products should not be tested at all for things like lead because children are unlikely to eat them.

The New York Times, which is highly critical of the new campaign, calls the concern over frivolous lawsuits “a predictable canard,” noting that the database was designed with safeguards to avoid bogus claims. In an editorial, the paper noted that the small increase in costs due to testing is more than offset by the damage incurred by families and society when a child is poisoned or hurt by a dangerous toy, and that exposing older children to similar risks is unacceptable.

It also points out that there is still a lot of lead out there. Since the new law was passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 26 lead-related toy recalls.

Source: The New York Times

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December 17, 2010

CPSC "recalls" its recall of lead-laced drinking glasses

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has reversed an earlier decision and now says lead-laced drinking glasses with images of superheroes and characters from the Wizard of Oz are intended for adults, not children.

Previously, the CPSC had said the glasses were children’s products and therefore had to meet strict federal lead limits. Independent lab testing by the Associated Press had determined that the amount of lead in the colored decorations was as much as 1,000 times the federal maximum for children's products. There are, however, no limits on lead content for adult drinking glasses.

The main danger of lead ingestion is to the developing brains of small children.

According to agency spokesman Scott Wolfson, “a premature statement was made regarding two sets of glasses . . . that has now been determined to be inaccurate." Ironically, it was Wolfson himself who had announced that the glasses were children’s products and that CPSC would launch an investigation into their lead content. After Wolfson’s initial statement, the company that imported the glasses from China announced it was pulling them from the market and would recall those already sold.

Wolfson now says that CPSC staff weren’t in possession of the glasses when they were declared children’s products. “After thoughtful analysis by child behavior experts at CPSC, it has been determined that the glasses are not children's products [because] the size, weight, packaging and price of the glasses sampled by CPSC are consistent with glasses more commonly used for consumption of adult beverages."

Jim Therrell, a professor at Central Michigan University who wrote the guidelines used by CPSC to determine what items children of different ages use, disagrees. “"Kids would choose this glass over a plain glass. If you consider that they are all movie based, they're all fantasy based, the fantasies would probably range in appeal to ages 4 to 5 at the low end up through 11, 12."

Under federal law, an item is a "children's product" if it is "primarily intended" for those 12 and under.

Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek

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December 4, 2010

Feds probe lead-tainted drinking glasses for kids

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) has launched an investigation into lead levels in themed drinking glasses depicting comic book and movie characters. CPSC ruled that the glasses were children’s products, and therefore subject to stricter standards than those intended for adults.

The CPSC said it was collecting samples of all glasses cited in a continuing Associated Press probe into dangerous metals – cadmium,in particular – in children's merchandise.

After CPSC announced that it considers the glasses children's products, Warner Bros. said it would stop selling them, and the importer, Utah-based Vandor LLC, said it would pull them from the broader market, despite its insistence that the products were marketed to adults, not children. The Chinese-made glasses depict the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and characters from "The Wizard of Oz" such as Dorothy and the Tin Man.

About 160,000 glasses have been recalled since AP disclosed that laboratory tests it commissioned showed that colored designs in a range of glasses contain high levels of lead or were made in such a way that lead or cadmium could escape and contaminate the hands of someone handling them.

The CPSC said its own inquiry would extend beyond the superhero and Oz glasses to include others cited by AP "that have decorations that children would be attracted to."

Child safety advocates worry that that toxic metals rubbing onto children's hands can get into their mouths and cause cumulative damage over time. Testing performed so far revealed that the enamel used to color the glasses contained 1,000 times the the amount of lead (i.e. the enamel was 30% lead, whereas the federal limit is 0.03%).

Had the regulators decided the glasses weren’t children’s products, they wouldn’t be subject to the strict federal limits.

Both Vandor and Warner Brothers, which sold the glasses, insisted that the principal cutomers were adult collectors and that they made the decision to pull the glasses in "an abundance of caution." But on Warner Brothers own website, the glasses were sold alongside a lunch box and children’s T-shirts with superhero images.


Source: Boston Globe

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November 23, 2010

186,000 visits to ER due to defective toys, CPSC says

Kids under 15 made 186,000 visits to the ER due to defective toys, according to figures released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But there’s also good news in the latest CPSC report: deaths resulting from use of toys are down, as are toy recalls. But toy related injuries, particularly lacerations and contusions, are up.

CPSC says the number of toy recalls dropped to 44 in fiscal year 2010, down from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008. It credits its new toy safeguards -- establishing the lowest lead content and lead paint limits in the world; converting the voluntary toy standard into a mandatory standard; and working with Customs and Border Protection data systems to better track shipments of dangerous products from other countries -- as helping to restore confidence in the safety of toys sold in the U.S.

Toy-related fatalities also decreased; in 2009. CPSC received reports of 12 deaths to children under the age of 15, down from 24 toy-related fatalities both in 2007 and 2008. Riding toys were associated with almost 60 percent of the reported deaths in 2009: three with tricycles, two with powered riding toys and two with nonmotorized riding toys or unspecified riding toys.

On the negative side, 2009 saw a massive recall of Mattel Inc.’s Fisher-Price toys, with more than 10 million products targeted, including infant toys, high chairs and toy cars. These products were recalled for many different reasons, including choking hazards and protruding parts.

Source: Bloomberg Business Week

You can read the complete CPSC report here.


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May 2, 2010

Lead Poisoning Still a Reality for Children Today

Since lead paint was banned in 1978, the number of children with elevated lead levels has decreased so much that at one point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was confident that this environmental hazard would be eliminated by 2010. However, health officials no longer think they can meet that goal this year because lead hazards are still present in houses built before the lead paint ban, many of which are in “poor urban pockets,” says Mireya Navarro of the New York Times.

Although the 1978 law banned the use of lead paint, local laws and enforcement have yet to catch up with their own laws requiring inspections and cleanup of houses built before 1978. Dr. Mary Jean Brown, chief of the lead poisoning prevention branch at the CDC, said that there are still jurisdictions that do not have laws requiring landlords to check for lead-based paint. Even in places that do have such laws, landlords are not always compliant – in a survey done from 2007 to 2009 in Brooklyn, New York, “59 percent of tenants reported that their landlords had not followed any of the law’s provisions,” Navarro reported in the NY Times article.

In addition to experts’ recommendation of strengthening local laws and enforcement, the EPA implemented a regulation in April, 2010, that “requires renovation and remodeling contractors to be certified in techniques for containing lead dust stirred up during work” in buildings constructed before 1978.

Elevated lead levels in young children, especially those under 6, can “cause irreversible impairment intelligence quotient, motor skills and behavior,” says Dr. John Rosen, who founded a lead prevention program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

In Washington, D.C., lead safety laws impose strict liability on landlords who know they are renting to families with children under eight years old. However, many landlords still are lax about cleaning up apartments unless families complain loud and often. In our law firm's work in representing such families, we find that landlords don't take their obligations seriously until they are taken to court.

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