Politicians discover lead

In the wake of continued revelations this holiday/election season that plenty of toys, jewelry and other items available to children are still full of lead, and that many that were recalled are still on the shelves, political leaders are starting to take notice.

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Photo courtesy N.Y. Times December 22, 2007

The lead-in-toys fiasco is surely one of the (sad) stories of the year. Even White House hopeful Barrack Obama got in on the act, calling for a total ban on all toy imports from China during a campaign stop Wednesday in NH (and then changed his mind – he only meant those with “excessive lead,” he now says). Recent proactive steps by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madrigan to protect children in her state were the focus of my interview last week on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Pulse” with E.D. Hill.

While I applaud those in political leadership roles standing up for our children, I wonder where they have been. In 1998, the Toy Manufacturers of America “pledged that its members will help reduce children’s exposure to hazardous lead levels. They will go beyond what the law requires by eliminating lead from their products.” That was almost 10 years ago. Why has no one been monitoring this promise?

In the “better-late-than-never” category, on the same day Obama made his declaration in NH, the U.S. House of Representatives unamimously voted “for a bill that would nearly eliminate lead in toys and boost funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).” Ironically, it is Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton who is quoted as saying, “This bill has the toughest lead standards in the world for children’s products.” This is the same Joe Barton who led efforts to stall passage of the Combating Autism Act (CAA), at that time leading radio legend Don Imus to call him a “a lying, fat little skunk from Texas.” Barton seemed concerned about including mention of environmental toxin research in the CAA language, so he single-handedly orchestrated a hold-up ’til he got his way. I guess some toxins are more important than others to Joe Barton, considering it’s an election year.

Furthermore, I think we need tougher standards than the current CPSC 600 ppm limit. The American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed a 40 ppm standard. How about a zero-tolerance policy? Why is any lead OK? This is a question I have asked before and will continue to. Researchers continue to demonstrate that even small amounts of blood lead (previously thought to be “OK”) are associated with cognitive differences. When are we going to say enough is enough? Hopefully this new-found interest in children’s health for politicians will continue past November 2008.

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