Lead in Toys and Lead Poisoning in Children

While lead poisoning in children has become significantly less prevalent in the last few decades, lead is a highly toxic metal and remains a very serious threat to the health and development of a child. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because their growing bodies absorb more lead than an adult body will, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive.  

Sources of Lead

The primary source of lead is lead paint. Lead paint was common in homes until the government banned its use in 1978. If you believe lead paint may be present in your home, you need to be watchful for cracking and chipping paint and clean all surfaces regularly, as dust containing paint particles will also contain lead. You should also have your children's blood lead level tested. Children's lead levels can be measured through a simple blood test administered by your doctor or health care professional.

Children can also be exposed to lead in many consumer products, such as candy wrappers, jewelry, public playground equipment, toys, and products made of vinyl. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) requires precautionary labeling on any household product containing lead, and the use of lead in toys or any other article intended for children is completely banned (with some exceptions).

Lead in Toys

Due to the stringent restrictions on lead use in toys, lead is no longer commonly found in toys. However, if your child plays with older toys, be sure to carefully inspect the toys to see if they have been painted. Some older toys were painted with lead paint, before the lead paint restriction was enforced in 1978. Also, lead is sometimes found in toys that were manufactured in a foreign country and not subjected to rigorous quality control upon import to the United States. Be cautious of all toys with metal pieces that your child may put in his or her mouth. Babies and young children can be more highly exposed to lead because they are more likely to put metal objects containing lead into their mouths.

Lead in Metal Costume Jewelry

The most serious cases of lead poisoning in children in the last decade have been the result of children coming into contact with metal costume jewelry containing lead. In 2006, a four-year-old Minnesota boy died of lead poisoning after swallowing a piece of a metal charm bracelet that was a free gift with a pair of Reebok athletic shoes. The charm had been manufactured in China and was not tested for lead. The charm contained 99.1% lead, and the child's blood lead level was three times the amount that is considered dangerous. Reebok was fined $1 million by the U.S. government for violating the FHSA, and Reebok compensated the boy's mother for her loss in a confidential settlement. Two similar cases occurred in 2003 and 2009, both resulting in the lead poisoning of a child who had contact with metal jewelry containing lead.

Signs of Lead Poisoning in Children

Lead poisoning can be difficult to detect because the symptoms are generally not severe until the child is very seriously ill. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the sources of lead poisoning and be vigilant that your child is not regularly exposed to potential lead sources. Even low levels of lead exposure can result in:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Slower growth and smaller size than children of the same age
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anemia

In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma, and even death. If you suspect that your child has been exposed to lead, have your doctor or medical professional administer a simple blood test. If your child does exhibit unusually high levels of lead, seek medical treatment right away and work to determine the source.

If the source of your child's lead poisoning is a consumer product, such as a toy, you should seek representation by an experienced product liability attorney who can help you pursue a legal remedy.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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