If you check the contents of most lunch boxes, you'll find a banana here, maybe some pretzels and sandwiches. The lunches may look healthy but it's what they're stored in that could be dangerous. In an ongoing investigation, the Center for Environmental Health is testing vinyl lunch boxes for lead. Laura Cushing, Research Director says, "We knew that lead is intentionally added to the types of plastic that's used to make these lunch boxes. That's PVC, poly vinyl chloride plastic. It's an all around dirty plastic. We know lead is added to heat stabilizer and pigment and we saw how popular these lunch boxes were this season so we thought we should test a few."
So far, the CEH has found 17 lunch boxes with dangerously high levels of lead. The Angela Anaconda and Crayola lunchbox contained so much lead, that manufacturers have pulled them from the shelves. That's because doctors say prolonged exposure to lead can cause serious problems.
Using a California lead law, the CEH has filed lawsuits against four manufacturers and four retailers you'd recognize, Walgreens, Toys R Us, Ross and Big Lots. Several others have received legal notices. Cushing says, "We've been very successful in past with this law to achieve nationwide change. So that's our goal is to get manufacturers to agree to eliminate lead in their product, not just in California, but nationwide."
"That concerns me greatly because you know we don't think about dangers of lead if we are careful about our paint and we're careful. Even pencils in schools don't have lead anymore and to find out that it's in many of our lunch boxes kids are exposed to all day, it's scary," says Gwen Farley. Farley is a mother of five and a teacher at Broadway Church of Christ's Sonshine Preschool.
She wanted to know if the kids at her school were in danger, so NewsChannel 11 took a home lead kit into the school to test lunch boxes. Here's how it works. You begin by wiping the product clean with a paper towel. Then you swab the lunch box and press the swab against the indicator. If it turns red, you know you've got lead.
That's exactly what we were looking for when we took 21 lunch boxes from the cubby holes in the three and four year old classes. We swabbed the inside vinyl portion of each lunch box. The swabs were indicating a bit of dust and dirt but so far no lead until we came to the final three lunch boxes. We swabbed the insides of a vinyl lunchbox with a picture of Herbie the Car on the front. The swab turned slightly pink indicating a presence of lead. So, with one-hit we kept going, this time, swabbing the outside and right away, we got a hit on lead. This Hello Kitty lunch box turned the swab pink and then red when we pressed it on the indicator. The simple test doesn't tell us how much lead, but it does indicate a presence of lead.
Covenant Emergency Room Pediatrician Dr. Sameeh Zalloum tells us any amount can be dangerous. Dr. Zalloum says, "Any prolonged exposure for kids is harmful because the body does not get rid of lead. As long as it's within kids reach, it's exposed." Once you're exposed to lead either by ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption, the lead builds up in your body and can cause long term effects. Dr. Zalloum says, "The lead will delay nervous system development and they will have speech problems, hearing problems, social problems, attention problems or their intelligence isn't as good as other kids."
Dr. Zalloum says its young children like the ones in the pre-school class we visited, that are most at risk. Dr. Zalloum says, "Many of the kids from birth to age six are the high risk group because these kids are developing kids and it can really impair development. Children may not show any symptoms. So Dr. Zalloum suggests asking your pediatrician about lead screening. It's a simple blood test that can start when your child is twelve months old. A nutritious diet will also help. Dr. Zalloum says, "If kids eat a high calcium and iron food like spinach, beans or meat, those will decrease the absorption of lead." Dr. Zalloum says its best to get rid of the lead exposure you are aware of in your home like certain lunch boxes we found pre-schoolers carrying. Dr. Zalloum says, "This box is a hazard really so it's one of those environmental hazards you have to get rid of."
Gwen Farley agrees. Farley says, "I know some people may say that's only two, but that's two too many. I'm gonna go get a kit and test mine at home and I'm going to be real careful about buying another one. Since our investigation, two other students at Sonshine Preschool have traded in their lunch boxes. They were carrying the same Hello Kitty lunch box.
In the meantime, you can test your child's lunch box for lead with a home kit. We found several for sale online. Click any of the following links . Lead Inspector Lead Check We also called several hardware stores around town. The only one with a lead kit is Childress Hardware. It sells for $7.99 there. If you need help understanding your results or to report a positive test, call the Center for Environmental Health toll free at 1-800-652-0827 or ( click here ).