Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Children and lead poisoning
Editor's note: In light of today's news about the toy recall, Dr. Sanjay Gupta answers five questions about lead and its affect on children.

Q: What is lead poisoning?

Dr. Gupta: Lead is a highly toxic metal that can be found primarily in lead-based paint and soil. Lead poisoning occurs when there is a toxic level in your body. Lead itslef has no function in the body, but can mimic other metals, which are important in the body such as calcium and zinc. While children and adults can both suffer from lead poisoning, it's far more common in children because their developing bodies can absorb more lead, and be more affected by it. Lead poisoning is sometimes confused with porphyria (think Madness of King Gerorge) but they are in fact different problems.

Q: How do you get it? Only by ingesting lead?

Dr. Gupta: You can get lead poisoning by eating, breathing or swallowing too much of it. You can breathe, especially during renovations, in dust containing lead. You can also eat soil or paint chips containing the toxic metal. Other lead sources are drinking water, food, ceramics, home remedies and other cosmetics. Substantial lead amounts can be found in old lead-based paint, household dust and soil.

Q: We often see children with pencils in their mouths-how much lead does it take to make a child sick?

Dr. Gupta: Well, interestingly lead pencils don't really contain lead. They contain non-toxic graphite, a form of carbon. It's hard to say exactly how much is too much because we're talking about microscopic amounts here. But, here is one way of looking at it. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, if a child ate a lead-based paint chip one-tenth of a square inch (that's the size of the tip of a pencil eraser) each day for 2 to 4 weeks, that kid could test with dangerously high levels of lead. In a blood test, 10 micrograms per deciliter or above is considered dangerous for anyone, but especially in kids age six years or younger.

Q: What does lead poisoning do to you?

Dr. Gupta: When it comes to the effects of lead poisoining, the list is long.

In adults, the list includes difficulties during pregnancy, reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nerve disorders, muscle and joint paint, memory and concentration problems.

Kids' brains and nervous systems are especially sensitive to lead. In children, lead poisoning can lead to developmental delays, damage to the brain and nervous system and even behavioral problems such as ADHD -- just to name a few.

Q: If untreated, what are worst case consequences?

Dr. Gupta: A major problem with lead poisoning is that there are no obvious symptoms until the case is far gone. So, cases often go undiagnosed. At very high levels, lead poisoning leads to seizures, coma and even death.

If parents are concerned, they should ask their doctor to perform a lead test on their children. A lead test is not mandatory, but is often performed by pediatricians. Here is something that I learned while investigating this story: the CDC recommends that all children be screened for blood lead levels once per year, especially between the ages of 6 months and 6 years.

For more information about lead poisoning, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Posted By CNN: 1:19 PM ET
  26 Comments
I am not sure if you already got this

Lead pencils don't actually have lead in them?!?!? Dang I went and learned something new today. Thank you Dr. Sanjay and 360 :P
Posted By Megan O. Toronto, ON, Canada : 1:55 PM ET
The guy from Mattel sounded awfully nervous when he was trying to sound confident, telling reporters that they clamped down on quality control. I don't know, I just don't trust really really large corporations when they say "don't worry, we've got it covered."
Posted By Steve, Peoria, Ill. : 2:23 PM ET
We can send those guys up to space and allow them to walk around, but we can't make paint for childrens' toys that doesn't chip and isn't toxic?

I guess my message to Mattel would be "get the lead out!"
Posted By Kelly, San Francisco : 3:08 PM ET
Sanja,

The first thing I thought of when I heard the news about lead paint being used in children's toys, was a visit we made to the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent in the UK. The museum is a restored Victorian era factory that provides a glimpse of what it was like to work the kilns during the Industrial Revolution when the emphasis was on industry and not workers. I can still see the photos of the women who painted the pottery--their faces are grey and empty as they sit there with paint brushes (filled with lead paint) in their hands. You took one look and knew they didn't have long for this world. It is like we are in a time warp with China repeating all the awful practices that occurred in our not so distant past. What about the health of the workers who were exposed to this paint, much less the children who have put these toys in their mouths? Will there be a picture of them in some museum some day and people will say, tisk, tisk, that is what we got when we went for the lowest bid and didn't pay attention to quality and health standards? Why didn't reps from these American companies make spot and random inspections of the Chinese manufacturing companies to check up on them? I bet they will now.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 3:11 PM ET
Tainted food,tainted toothpaste,lead poisonning...all tracing back to China again!

And Mattell is blaming the firm Hong Li Da of not having used the paint that the firm Early Light had provided to paint the toys!
Wow,the blaming game again! How about those big corporations keeping track of every step of the production? Having people in place to make sure everything is by the book? I'm sure they can afford it!
We all know that some of the companies in China will cut corners,the big corporations hiring them should be more cautious,especially,when their products will find their way into children's hands. Ah yeah,sorry,I forgot!!Profits above anything else!

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 3:30 PM ET
To Kelly in SF:

"We can send those guys up to space and allow them to walk around, but we can't make paint for childrens' toys that doesn't chip and isn't toxic?"

Yes they do make paint for childrens' toys that doesn't chip and isn't toxic but Mattel chose to go the cheap route with lead based paint instead of charging a little more for the toy so that they could get prime shelf space at WalMart. It's the American consumers fault 50% and Mattel's fault 50%.

BTW, the "jokes" and funny stuff that some of the posters put on here isn't funny in the least, you guys need to grow up.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:33 PM ET
What happened to getting your child one or two toys a year - for birthday and Christmas? If we didn't have hundreds of toys cluttering up our houses, if we weren't so materialistic, we wouldn't need to be giving the Chinese millions of dollars to have these massive toy factories. I mean, how much is enough?
Posted By Mandy, Boston, MA : 3:35 PM ET
AC360:
Where is the list of American companies manufacturing products in the People Republic of China?

Maybe the words, "NOT MADE IN AMERICA" should be required on all product labels. This would be to warn American consumers to purchase "AT THEIR OWN RISK".
Posted By Liz, Milwaukee, Wisconsin : 3:42 PM ET
Message to Kelly in SF-
China made the lead based toxic paint.
The USA puts astronauts in space and they do alot more than "walk around"
Posted By Anonymous : 3:49 PM ET
Was "how much much lead is in pencil lead" a serious question by CNN? Maybe they should have also asked how many reptiles are dehydrated when you drain a lizard, or how many primates are harmed when ... ohhh, you get the picture.
Posted By Anonymous : 3:52 PM ET
THey do make a non-toxic paint that most German toys use . I think it's Mattl's quality assurance issue to not use this higher-quality paint. I think consumers need to check on the labels and do alittle research instead of just buying these toys. You have to know what you're letting your children gnaw on and play with.
Posted By Dennis M. - Gary, In. : 4:02 PM ET
I'm with you Liz. Tainted toys, pet food, toothpaste, etc, etc. Maybe the US is relying too heavily on imported products from China. Why can't all of these items be "Made in America?"
Posted By Allie : 4:07 PM ET
Liz,
The packages do say "MADE IN CHINA", it may be in small print but it's there if you look for it. Until they better regulate the market and we gain some trust back, I would certainly take that label as an incentive not to buy the product.
Posted By Anonymous : 4:26 PM ET
In the 1960's my father worked in a Steel plant. OSHA did not exist and safety standards were nil. He "got leaded", as they called it three times in one year. He was so ill; nauseous, severe headaches, could'nt keep food down, had aching and burning in his joints etc. He was a very muscular man and the weight seemed to fall off him. It was actually quite frightening. Seeing the effects of lead poisoning on a strong healthy man makes me shudder to think what it does to a developing child. Dad is now 74 years old. He has experienced most of the symptoms you describe and a few more that may be related. He swears he can still tell when the pain is his joints is the lead "acting up." We know there is lead in the paint and we know these toys can harm our children. Do we have any idea what manufacturing these toys is doing to the worker? Given the knowledge we have today the whole thing seems criminal to me. Mattel is a huge profitable company that markets to our children. In my opinion, they have a responsibility to be 100% certain about the quality of material used to make their products!
Posted By Mary, Utah : 5:03 PM ET
Mattel's president claims to be doing everything possible to correct the situation. This is ludicris. The situation is that an underdeveloped communist nation is making our children's toys. Why? The only thing I can think of is that it is much cheaper to use Chinese labor, an insult to the laborer and an extreme danger to our children. There is no excuse for poor inspection. Was there someone inspecting? Was this paint we gave them years ago when we learned of the damage it could do? Unforgiveable Do not buy Mattel this Christmas.
Posted By Pastor Carol : 5:05 PM ET
It's a no-brainer, but I would not be surprised at all if we soon learn that the increase in kids w/ADHD and serious behavioral problems has a real, cumulative connection to toxic toys--and toxic other, everyday products in general. When did we start really seeing a rise in all these problems in children? Likely not long after we handed over production of nearly all low and mid-priced goods to other countries. We have to be a lot more thoughtful as consumers; but that's easy for you if you're middle class.
Posted By Cathy from NY : 10:45 PM ET
I think your show is really great, but am dissappointed that you seem to have gotten caught up in the sensational journalism surrounding the lead issue. Rather than pushing all the alarmist worst case scenarios about the dangers of lead, why not give viewers information that will really be helpful like discussing the true danger of the current situation (ie: could my child get sick if he or she has played with some of the effected toys, is there a danger if my child touches, but doesn't chew on the toys, etc.). While I would certainly not suggest you downplay the issue, it seems like Mattel is doing all they can to be proactive and the media is just looking for something to drive up ratings.
Posted By Shawn Solon, Little Silver, NJ : 10:53 PM ET
Thank you for the concise and useful information on lead, Sanjay.

With about 85% of toys being made in China these days is there any way for us to test toys for lead at home before giving them to kids?
Posted By Michelle, St. Paul, MN : 10:56 PM ET
Hi Dr. Gupta,
You are so right and lead toxicitity is a very real risk but let me ask this question: What are the risk of mercury poisoning? Yeah, is it healthy to eat tuna? Break a mercury thermomoter in a child's mouth? Give it to us straight Dr. Sanjay.
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 11:45 PM ET
This situation with Mattel and other corporate american companies comes as no big surprise. It was just a matter of time before the american public found out the truth. I am just sorry it has taken so long to surface! Not only toys, dog food, and toothpaste are contaminated, but I am sure our food chain as well is contaminated and in most cases unfit for human consumption. This is due, in my opinion, to greedy corporate america sending (with our governments blessing) american jobs out of this country in order to increase their profits at americans' expense. Does our government still pay american farmers NOT to grow wheat? I am trying very very hard not to buy products made in other countries but, unfortunately it is easier said than done! I feel that it is up to us, the people, to rectify this situation by boycotting all products that are not manufactured in America...we do not really need 3/4 of these products anyway. Will I buy Mattel's products in the future? NO WAY! Do I believe the american corporations expressed sorrow when these situations arise? NO! I do believe, however, that these american corporations are truly sorry they got caught!
Posted By Moe, Liverpool NY : 9:25 AM ET
Is there a link between the explosion in ADHD and other developmental disorders in children with the explosion in "off-shore" production of toys that we now find out are coated in lead paint? I'm not sure it is a cooincedence. Since we have "regulated" the use of lead paint doctors no longer routinely screen for lead exposure in children so if it was a problem we would never have known it.
Posted By Barbara, Southbridge, MA : 1:33 PM ET
Most of the toys that we buy are made in Comunist China. Does anyone really think the comunists are concerned about the safety of the products they are selling us?
Posted By Perry, Dallas, Texas : 2:26 PM ET
That's a good point Perry in TX made. Most of the crap ---- I mean goods we buy at the big box retailers are made in a country where the workerrs are scraping by just to get the little daily wage they make; do we really think anyone in China has the high standards, or that the American companies who oversee this manufacturing, are keeping a tight control on the quality of materials used?
Posted By Cary - Lowell, IN : 4:17 PM ET
Dr. Gupta?AC360
Chinese like hazardous business.
We can't foreseeable.
They don't know that their serious
problem.
They are get to irreparable credit.
Posted By Hyo kyungJung / south Korea : 3:13 AM ET
Has anyone even considered bringing these and other "out sourced" jobs back to the US where we take pride in "made in america" labels?
Posted By David C of Taft ca : 5:13 AM ET
We have only ourselves to blame for these problems. We have forgotten that sometimes saving a buck will cost you a lot more in the end.
Posted By W. Chessher : 6:09 AM ET
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