What now? Toxic lead in baby changing pads & diaper bags

You may not even want to hear this but it is actually nothing new.  It gets almost tiresome – the daily reports about this toxic chemical in this product.  You may stop even paying attention.  I can’t say a blame you.  You almost want to give up.  But don’t!  We can eliminate or reduce toxic chemicals in our homes.  It may take some sweeping policy changes to make a real difference on a global scale, but you can make the environment you want a home.


So, what’s the latest?  Diaper bags and changing pads contain lead.  A report from the Center for Environmental Health found high levels of lead in a number of diaper changing pads and diaper bags.  The CEH purchased 60 diaper bags from major California retailers and specialty stores in February and March, 2008, and tested the bags and the changing pads that came with the bags for lead using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer.  The bags & pads were also sent to an independent laboratory to verify the results.


And the results?  Some of the bags came back with elevated lead levels.  Why?  These bags and changing pads, or parts of them, were made with polyvinyl chloride (“PVC” or vinyl) plastic.  PVC plastic has to be stabilized to retain its strength.  It is often stabilized with lead, although other metal salts can be used.  The lead isn’t bound up in the plastic polymer, so it will migrate to the surface, especially with exposure to heat and friction.  The result?  Lead is available for pick up on the surface of some vinyl items. 


The CEH compared the lead levels to the federal standard for lead in paints and other coatings, which is 600 ppm.  This isn’t a standard for lead in vinyl, but it was at least a benchmark for comparison purposes.  There is no federal standard for lead in vinyl.  California’s Proposition 65 requires warnings for listed chemicals, and certain standards have been established for lead in certain products – above the level, a warning is required and below it, no warning is required.  Most of these standards are below 600 ppm for lead in vinyl products, such as tool handles and electrical cords.


Does it matter?  Lead exposure can cause significant adverse health consequences, including lower IQ scores, at low levels.  Children are more at risk for lead exposure.  The benchmark is 10 micrograms lead per deciliter blood, but it is fairly well established that there is no safe level for lead, and health effects have been demonstrated at blood lead levels of 2.5 micrograms per deciliter blood.  Lead exposure is cumulative, so little small exposures can add up.  Lead based paint and lead in household dust remain a more significant exposure for children, but you still might want to check out  your diaper bag.  The highest lead levels were found in the changing pads of three bags from K-Mart including a Disney Baby “Winnie the Pooh” bag, a Baby Got Bag leopard print bag, and a “Baby Necessities” brand bag. A fourth with lead in the changing pad was a “George” store-brand bag from WalMart. A “Red” brand bag from Mimi Maternity and a Carter’s “Out ‘N About” bag from Babies R Us had high lead levels in other parts of the bag.

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