One of my best friends has a two and a half year old son who is absolutely enthralled with all things electric, cords, appliances and otherwise. When visiting our house, he looks behind shelves, and the refrigerator (which has scary dust bunnies and god knows what else lurking), and under tables, all seeking cords and their plugs. He points them out, wants to see where they go, and understand how everything works. It is amazing to watch him, and I notice how different his brain seems to work compared to my girls. I will not digress into a nature versus nurture discussion here, although it is tempting. My friend honored her son’s interests; she got him extension cords (away from any power source), and let him keep them in a drawer in his room to play with. He absolutely loved it and played for hours. Imagine her horror when the man at the hardware store told her the cords are made with lead. My friend was simply developing her son’s interests in a creative way—why does it feel like we are all standing in front of a tidal wave, trying to keep it back?
The Issue: We’ve been hearing a lot about the issue of lead poisoning lately. It’s been found in many toys made in China (more on this in a later post), bibs with a vinyl backing, cheap jewelry that has somehow slipped through unregulated (and caused the death of a child), and of course, the usual place, in paint on old houses and furniture. But who knew that lead was also hiding all over the inside of each of our homes, in all the electrical cords from our computers and other appliances?
Apparently, California knew, and the only reason I am reporting it here is because of California’s new labeling law, Proposition 65. New cords being sold, or part of appliances, should have the label, “Warning: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.” Excuse me? This chemical only causes cancer in California? And how many of you right now sit at a laptop on dining room table where your family eats? How many of you wash your hands after moving your laptop? Or how many of you wash your hands after using a breast pump, and handling the power cord?
You might say that the lead is encased in a cord, so it shouldn’t come out on a person’s hands, similar to lead paint being under several layers of newer paint, sealed in. Two different studies I found documented that when the cords come in contact with human skin and sweat, in one case for 10 seconds or more, the skin tested positive for lead. Then, say, you go change a diaper, or make food or prepare a bottle for your baby. This is enough to make anyone feel a little OCD about washing their hands.
The other disturbing thing I found out through my research (as if this isn’t enough) was that many vinyl blinds are made with lead. Manufacturers added lead as a plasticizer, and as the blind is exposed to sunlight and moved up and down, lead dust is released on to window sills and on to the blind itself. Exposure then happens when children touch the blinds or windowsill and put their fingers in their mouths. I have vinyl blinds in my house that were here when I moved to this house 2 years ago, and I need to test them as soon as possible.
Non Toxic Kids recommends: For electric cords, wipe them off from time to time with a baby wipe to remove any potential lead dust. Don’t let kids play with them and try to limit exposure in your house (try and move the laptop from the kitchen table-this will be hard for us!). If you are buying new extension cords, buy one made from a new brand called Green Spec, which uses a no lead PVC for its cords and appliances.
As for the blinds, buy a lead paint test kit and test your blinds. If they come up positive, carefully remove them and put them in a trash bag to take out of the house. Contact your local health department for information about how to dispose of the blinds. Wipe down the window area with a soap solution, and then wipe it down again with water. You can test the area again to be sure that no lead dust remains.
Final Thoughts: Why is ANYTHING allowed to be made with lead these days? Why is it the parents’ constant responsibility to find out about and eliminate toxic exposure with our kids? I feel it is time for national legislation regarding labeling, regulation, and banning the use of carcinogenic chemicals in our homes (okay, I’ll step down off my soapbox now, but I’m miffed).
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