Vinyl (PVC) is used to create a wide range of products from kitchen flooring and home siding to shower curtains and mini-blinds. You can even add children’s toys and lunchboxes to the list. This soft plastic is appealing to manufacturers because it can be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes. It also lasts a long time. But, the chemicals that provide these attributes cause concern. Flexibility is achieved through hormone disrupting chemicals called phthalates (thal- ates) that soften vinyl. Surprisingly, lead, a known neurotoxin, is commonly used to stabilize vinyl.
While lead is no longer allowed in the production Of vinyl in the United States, we still import vinyl products from China and other countries where lead is commonly used. This fact most recently came to light when children’s lunchboxes in California were found to have lead levels 2-25 times higher than the state legal limit for paint in children’s products. One in particular, the Angela Anaconda box by Targus International, tested at 56,400 parts per million (ppm) of lead, more than 90 times the 600 ppm state legal limit.
In New York, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and the Fantastic Four were taken in for questioning as these character lunchboxes, along with others distributed by Fast Forward, LLC. were pulled off store shelves. The company recalled the products after the state Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, found the lunchboxes to contain 21-81 times the state legal limit for lead in packages (100 ppm). Target and Wal-Mart are also cooperating in the recall; as of November 30,2005 they pulled the Fast Forward lunchboxes off store shelves.
Children can be exposed to lead in lunchboxes when their hand or food comes into contact with the vinyl lining or outer portion of the lunchbox.
What should parents in Michigan do? If your child uses a vinyl lunch box, go to your local hardware or home improvement store and buy a simple lead test kit. They are inexpensive and easy to use; most will turn bright pink if a surface contains lead. If the lunch box contains lead you can send it to the Center for Environmental Health, which will add it to their list of products to avoid. To avoid phthalates as well as lead, use a paper or reusable cloth bag or metal box. A great resource for non- vinyl insulated lunch bags with fun styles is www.reusablebags.com.
Remember vinyl is not just popular for lunchboxes. Imported vinyl products such as mini-blinds and children’s toys may also contain lead. Mini-blinds can deteriorate from heat and sun exposure leaving a layer of lead-laden dust on them. Children can be exposed when they touch the blinds and then put their hands in their mouths. And toys often go directly into children’s mouths. Choose blinds made from wood, metal, or non-treated fabric. If vinyl is the preferred choice, look for blinds labeled: “New Formulation,” “non-leaded formula,” or “no lead added.” Natural materials are best for children’s toys as well.
Note: Send vinyl lunchboxes with lead to:
Center for Environmental Health: 528 61st Street Suite A, Oakland, CA 94609.
Please include your contact information, when and where you purchased the box.
Center for Environmental Health Press Release: A Back to School Warning: Children’s Vinyl Lunch Boxes Can Contain Dangerous Levels of Lead.August 31,2005. www.cehca.org/lunchboxes.htm#release
Press Release from the Office of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer: Vinyl Lunch Boxes Containing Lead Recalled. November 29,2005. www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2005/nov/nov29a_05.html
ConsumerAffairs.Com Inc: Vinyl Lunch Boxes Recalled; Still Being Sold on eBay. November 30, 2005. www.consumeraffairs.com/recalls04/2005/ny_lunch_boxes.html
-Melissa Cooper Sargent, winter 2006
Printable pdf: Lead for Lunch?