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Lead Testing Kits Won't Find Lead In Toys, CPSC Warns

Kits Fail to Detect Lead in Toys More Than Half of the Time

Oct 23, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

The lead testing kits many anxious parents are turning to in order to determine if their children’s toys are safe are practically useless, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).   The CPSC made that determination after evaluations of the lead testing kits revealed that they were highly inaccurate.  The CPSC decided to review the lead testing kits because they have become very popular following a string of recalls for lead tainted toys over the summer.

Toy safety has received a great deal of attention this year.  Since August, toy giant Mattel has issued 3 separate toy recalls for lead hazards and other problems.  In June, the RC2 Company recalled more than 1 million lead-tainted Thomas and Friends toy trains.  Children’s jewelry and character notebooks have also been recalled for the same reason. And just last week, bookmarks, Halloween pails and children’s puppet theaters, along with toy animal figures sold at Wal-Mart have all been recalled for excessive amounts of lead.  Lead can cause a wide range of health problems, including learning disabilities and brain damage, if it is ingested by small children.

Tired of wondering if their children’s toys are safe, many parents have decided to take matters into their own hands and have started testing toys for lead using home kits.  But the CPSC says that in most instances, these kits are a waste of time and money.  The commission reviewed two common types of home lead testing kits that are based on chemical reactions with either rhodizonate ion or sulfide ion.  In more than104 tests conducted by the CPSC, the lead testing kits failed to detect lead more than half of the time.   None of the lead testing kits detected the toxin in toys that were covered in a non-lead coating such as paint.  And in two instances, the lead testing kits indicated the presence of lead when it wasn’t there.

The CPSC says that the results were not a surprise, and were similar to other tests run by the commission in the past.  In fact, the CPSC said that it has from time to time run lab tests on products for lead hazards after consumers have informed them that the items tested positive for the toxin with a home lead testing kit.  But in none of those cases has the CPSC ever found lead to be present.   What’s more, these lead testing kits were originally designed to detect high levels of lead in paint.   So they are not effective in finding the lower, but still hazardous, lead levels that have sparked so many toy recalls.  

The results of the CPSC evaluation of lead testing kits have prompted the commission to advise consumers not to purchase these products.  The CPSC says that lead testing by a reputable laboratory is the only way to accurately detect lead in toys.

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