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Health officials warn of lead in eye cosmetic

After a Massachusetts doctor found high levels of lead in an infant's blood last year, hospital staff found no hazards in common sources of the toxic metal – paint at the family's home, residue from workplace exposure, kitchenware and diet. Instead, they identified an unusual culprit: makeup.

For months, three to four times a week, the family had applied a Nigerian cosmetic and folk remedy called "tiro" to the boy's eyelids. The amount of lead in the boy's blood – 13 micrograms per deciliter – was more than double the level of concern set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A test revealed the cosmetic was 82.6 percent lead.

The findings, published earlier this month by the CDC, raise concerns about a product that certain immigrant populations often use but that health care providers rarely question as a source of lead exposure. The case is the first to the CDC's knowledge of an infant being poisoned by a cosmetic like tiro, said Jay Dempsey, the agency's health communications specialist.

 

"We're recommending (that) health care providers and workers should ask about eye medications and cosmetics when seeking a source of exposure to lead in children that have been diagnosed with elevated lead levels – particularly if they're from an immigrant population," Dempsey said.

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Lead-ammo ban sought to protect wildlife

A group of 100 environmental organizations has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead in ammunition as a toxic substance.  

The groups argue that more than 75 species, including the California condor and bald eagle, are harmed when they feed on the carcasses of animals killed by lead bullets and shot. Hunters who eat meat from animals killed with lead ammunition also face a risk of lead poisoning, they say, because tiny fragments of ammunition migrate from the original wound site into more distant tissue. Research has found that lead poisoning can cripple motor coordination and cause digestive problems, blindness and death.

"The EPA has taken steps to address toxic lead in almost every available product from gasoline to plumbing to toys," said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, which is leading the campaign. "The one source of lead that is still causing significant lead exposure is hunting ammunition and fishing tackle."

The groups filed the petition [PDF] Tuesday. The EPA has 60 days to determine whether leaded ammunition poses a significant health or environmental risk and whether regulation is the "least burdensome" way to address it. If it agrees with the petition's conclusions, it will begin a rule-making process that will include public hearings and comments. Otherwise, the petitioners could sue to force the EPA to regulate lead in ammunition.

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report

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React & Act: Why should I be concerned about lead in jewelry?

It's against the law in California to make, ship or sell jewelry that contains dangerous levels of lead. Read more frequently asked questions here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the laws for lead in jewelry?
It's against the law in California to make, ship or sell jewelry that contains dangerous levels of lead. Children’s jewelry – defined as items designed or intended primarily for children age 12 or younger – is regulated under the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which limits lead to 300 parts per million, or 0.03 percent lead by weight. In California, though, there are restrictions for lead in all jewelry, not just items meant for children. Lead limits vary by material but are all less than 60,000 ppm, or 6 percent lead by weight. You can download a fact sheet [PDF] about California’s jewelry law from the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Why should I be concerned about lead in jewelry?
Long-term lead exposure can damage the nervous system and is especially hazardous for children. At high levels, the metal can severely damage the brain and kidneys, and cause reproductive problems and even death. The Environmental Protection Agency says lead is a probable human carcinogen. Although jewelry is not a leading source of lead exposure, dangerous amounts of the heavy metal can spread through the bloodstream if jewelry is swallowed or chewed on. You can be exposed to lead if, after handling jewelry with lead on its surface, you put your hands to your mouth or touch food that you eat. Health and safety advocates recommend keeping jewelry away from young children.

How can I tell whether my jewelry contains high levels of lead?
You cannot tell whether jewelry contains lead by its appearance, brand, retailer or price. The only way to determine whether your jewelry contains lead is to test it.

The Center for Environmental Health, an Oakland nonprofit that routinely tests jewelry, says high lead levels are often found among the following kinds of jewelry:

  • dull-looking metal
  • fake pearls with pearlescent coating
  • plastic or vinyl cords or bracelets
  • lobster-claw clasps

You can see samples of jewelry with high levels of lead online at the Center for Environmental Health and the Department of Toxic Substances Control. You can search the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recalls of children’s jewelry. Searching for lead under hazard type yields the most comprehensive list.

How can I test my jewelry for lead?
You can screen jewelry for lead and other heavy metals by using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer. The screening is not as precise as a laboratory test but can accurately tell you whether your jewelry has high lead levels. The equipment costs thousands of dollars to buy or rent. But there are a few ways you can get your jewelry screened using the equipment for free:

California Watch is holding three free screenings that are open to the public:

Wednesday, Oct. 3
8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
De Colores Head Start at Fruitvale Village
1155 35th Ave., Oakland [MAP]
* Located next to the Fruitvale BART station

Sunday, Oct. 10
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Richmond Flea Market
716 W. Gertrude Ave., Richmond [MAP]

Thursday, Oct. 14
Noon to 6 p.m.
Nahui Ohlin
1511 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles [MAP]

The Center for Environmental Health offers screenings at its office from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday. It also accepts jewelry by mail. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your jewelry returned to you. The center asks that you include information about where and when you purchased the jewelry and a copy of the receipt, if available. The center is at 2201 Broadway, Ste. 302, Oakland, CA, 94612. Questions may be directed to Ryan Nestle at ryan@ceh.org or 510.655-3900, ext. 310.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control sometimes hosts public screening events, but none are currently scheduled.

Home testing kits that use swabs to check for lead are generally not recommended for jewelry analysis. Lead in jewelry is often beneath the surface and difficult to swab, making it more likely that tests will produce false negatives.

To determine the exact quantity of lead in jewelry, an item must be analyzed in a lab. California law uses testing methods 3050B, 3051A, and 3052, as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The tests destroy jewelry so it cannot be recovered. The California Department of Public Health lists accredited labs here.

Where do I report jewelry with high levels of lead?

The Center for Environmental Health works with the state attorney general and other government agencies to report jewelry with high levels of lead. You can contact Ryan Nestle at the center at ryan@ceh.org or 510.655-3900, ext. 310.

Complaints about possible jewelry violations can be directed to the Department of Toxic Substances Control at leadinjewelry@dtsc.ca.gov or by calling 800.698-6942. You can also file a complaint online. Under “Complaint Related To” on the form, check “Toxic Substances” to make sure it reaches the department.

You can report jewelry with high levels of lead to the California attorney general’s Public Inquiry Unit at 916.322-3360.

You can report unsafe children’s jewelry at the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning symptoms are often absent or develop over time with chronic exposure. Common symptoms include stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and loss of appetite. Children may also have learning difficulties or behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity. The only way to know whether you or your child has lead poisoning is to get a blood test.

Where can I get tested for lead exposure?
Your health care provider can tell you more about lead tests. The state requires health care providers to screen children ages 1 and 2 who are in public programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. Children should also get tested if they live in or spend a lot of time in homes built before 1978 where lead paint may be present. You can also contact your local public health department or lead poisoning prevention program for more information.

I bought jewelry from Rainbow Apparel that has high levels of lead. What should I do?
Health and safety advocates recommend keeping jewelry away from young children. Rainbow will accept returns of any jewelry identified in a violation notice for a full refund if you have the receipt. If you do not have the receipt, Rainbow will refund your jewelry at the current or last selling price.

Helpful resources:
The Department of Toxic Substances Control has information about lead in jewelry on its website.

The Department of Public Health has information about the dangers of lead to children and lead poisoning prevention.

You can find data and information about lead exposure and prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Center for Environmental Health has information about lead in jewelry and a list of companies and brands that have agreed to California’s lead standards.

Key contacts
California Office of the Attorney General
Website: www.ag.ca.gov
Phone: 800.952-5225
Mail: Attorney General’s Office
California Department of Justice
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

Center for Environmental Health
Website: www.ceh.org
E-mail: www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_contact&task=view&contact_id=2&Itemid=10
Phone: 510.655-3900
Mail: 2201 Broadway, Ste. 302
Oakland, CA 94612
Facebook: www.facebook.com/centerforenvironmentalhealth
Twitter: @4EnviroHealth

California Department of Toxic Substances Control
Website: www.dtsc.ca.gov
Phone: 800.728-6942
Mail: P.O. Box 806
Sacramento, CA 95812-0806
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Sacramento-CA/DTSC-The-Department-of-Toxic-Substances-Control/109412255835
Twitter: @enviro_squawk

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Website: www.cpsc.gov
E-mail: www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/info.aspx
Phone: 800.638-2772
Mail: 4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
En español: www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/spanish/spanish.html
Twitter: @OnSafety

California Department of Public Health
Website: www.cdph.ca.gov
E-mail: www.cdph.ca.gov/_layouts/dhs/sitecomments/default.aspx
Phone: 916.558-1784
Twitter: @CAPublicHealth

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Website: www.cdc.gov
E-mail: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Phone: 800.232-4636
Mail: 1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
En español: www.cdc.gov/spanish
Facebook: www.facebook.com/CDC
Twitter: @CDCgov

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Website: www.epa.gov
E-mail/Phone: List of contacts available at www.epa.gov/epahome/hotline.htm
En español: www.epa.gov/espanol
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EPA
Twitter: @epagov

Filed under: Health & Welfare, Tainted Jewelry

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Health officials recall lead-tainted candy

The California Department of Public Health initiated a recall Tuesday of an Indian candy that is tainted with high levels of lead.

The candy, sold under the brand name Roopal Swad, was analyzed by the Public Health Department and found to contain up to 0.18 parts per million of lead. In California, foods with more than 0.10 parts per million of lead are considered contaminated.

The company that imported the product, India Imports & Exports Inc., is voluntarily recalling the candy.

"The contamination was identified through routine surveillance sampling in the marketplace," said Pat Kennelly, chief of the food safety section of the California Department of Public Health.

It's not yet clear how many stores are selling the candy. To make sure the product is removed from circulation, the state health department traces the product to the end retailer and "provides the local health departments with a list of the retailers that received the recalled candy so they can verify the product has been removed from store shelves," Kennelly said.

The candy comes in a clear, plastic 7-ounce bag, and each oval candy is individually wrapped with silver foil. 

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Law will allow fines for all lead-tainted jewelry

California has imposed fines on retailers and suppliers that sell lead-tainted jewelry since 2007, but because of a provision in state law, dozens of companies have not had to pay. Come January, under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last week, all violations of the state's jewelry regulations will warrant penalties.

The bill, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, followed a California Watch investigation that found that more than 200 retailers and suppliers faced virtually no financial penalties for selling jewelry with illegal levels of lead – even if they did so repeatedly.

Pavley said she anticipates SB 646 will make companies more vigilant in ensuring their jewelry meets state standards.

"I'm confident now that, with all companies facing the threat of financial penalties, we can better safeguard our most vulnerable citizens from the dangers of lead," she said in a statement issued to California Watch.

 

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead, a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system, brain, kidneys and reproductive system.

California's original lead-in-jewelry law, which Pavley authored five years ago, created dual enforcement tracks: one for primarily large companies that signed a settlement with the state and one for everyone else. 

Filed under: Health & Welfare, Daily Report, Tainted Jewelry

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Legislature approves tougher penalties for lead in jewelry

California lawmakers approved a bill today that will impose tougher financial penalties on companies that sell lead-tainted jewelry.

The bill, by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, closes a loophole in state law that has allowed dozens of retailers and suppliers to avoid financial penalties. SB 646, which passed the Senate 33-4, now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for approval.

Pavley, who authored the state's landmark law five years ago, told senators that the bill was needed "to protect children and their public health."

"It's time to achieve the original intent of California's ban on lead in jewelry … and to hold accountable those who repeatedly violate that," she said.

Pavley introduced SB 646 in February, after a California Watch investigation found that more than 200 retailers and suppliers faced virtually no financial penalties for selling jewelry with illegal levels of lead – even if they did so repeatedly.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system, brain, kidneys and reproductive system. Children are particularly vulnerable to the heavy metal.

 

California has regulated lead in jewelry since 2007, but enforcement has operated on dual tracks: one for primarily large companies that signed a settlement with the state and one for everyone else.

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Retailers cited again for lead-tainted jewelry

Since establishing strict standards on lead in jewelry five years ago, the California attorney general has found fewer and fewer toxic items every year. But some stores still are selling lead-tainted jewelry.

This month, the attorney general cited Burlington Coat Factory for 23 necklaces whose clasps contained illegal levels of lead – as much as 88 percent in one case. It also cited Styles for Less for selling four necklaces with excess lead.

The violations are not the first for either retailer, both of which signed California's landmark settlement [PDF] in 2006 that was the basis of the state's lead-in-jewelry law. Burlington Coat Factory was slapped with six violations last year. Styles for Less had 13 violations in February and 10 in the two years prior.

 

The pattern at these retailers shows that they must do more to ensure their jewelry is safe, said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. The center, a nonprofit based in Oakland, regularly tests jewelry for the state using a fund established by the settlement.

Both retailers said they've removed the items identified by the attorney general from their stores. How they'll prevent future violations remains to be seen.

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Oil companies polluting with leaded plane fuel, group says

An environmental watchdog group is pursuing legal action against major oil companies that sell aviation fuel it says is responsible for lead pollution in the air and drinking water sources around California airports.

The Center for Environmental Health sent notices of violation Monday to AvFuel, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as 38 airport-based suppliers of leaded aviation gasoline. The notices charge the companies with violating Proposition 65, California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

Proposition 65, passed in 1986, prohibits businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of about 800 chemicals – including lead – into drinking water sources and requires them to warn Californians about exposure to such toxins.

"The oil and aviation industries need to know Californians will not tolerate lead pollution that threatens our health and healthy environments," Michael Green, executive director of the center, said in a statement. "We expect the industries to take immediate action to eliminate pollution that endangers children and families who live, work and play near airports across the state."

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Lawmaker seeks tougher penalties for lead in jewelry

In an effort to close a loophole in California's law restricting lead in jewelry, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, has quietly introduced legislation that would subject more than 200 retailers and suppliers to tougher financial penalties for selling lead-tainted jewelry.

The legislation follows a California Watch investigation that found the state had repeatedly cited Rainbow Apparel, a national retailer with 35 stores in California, for selling jewelry with illegal levels of lead. The report uncovered even more lead-tainted jewelry on store shelves, prompting the company to remove items nationwide and raising questions about the state's regulation of repeat offenders.

Since California began regulating lead in jewelry in 2007, the attorney general has issued more than 100 violations, the vast majority to repeat offenders. Although state law calls for fines of at least $2,500 a day per violation, those penalties almost never apply to repeat offenders because nearly all signed a settlement with the state.

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Little League baseball uniform belts tainted with lead

Little League baseball uniform belts sold at several retailers have high levels of lead, according to independent lab tests commissioned by an environmental watchdog group.

The four brightly colored belts contained as much as 8.5 percent lead, more than 280 times the legal limit. The Center for Environmental Health purchased the belts from West Coast Shoes and Sporting Goods, Walmart, Sports Authority and Dick's Sporting Goods stores in the Bay Area. (For a list of the belts, see page 3 of the notice of violation.)

"Parents outfitting their children for Little League should know that some uniform belts may pose a lead hazard," Caroline Cox, research director at the center, said in a statement. "There is no crying in baseball, and there shouldn't be any lead either."

Lead is a neurotoxin. Long-term and high exposure can damage the nervous system, brain, kidneys and reproductive system. Children, who risk hand-to-mouth exposure when putting on, taking off or touching the belts, are particularly vulnerable to lead.

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