Maine CDC Press Release

August 30, 2004

HHS Provides Guidance on Lead Contaminated Toys

Contacts:
Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH MaryAnn Amrich
Director, Bureau of Health Director, Lead Poisoning Prev. Program
Dept. of Health & Human Services Dept. of Health & Human Services
Tel:  (207) 287-3270 Tel: (207) 287-8753
TTY: (207) 287-8066 TTY: (207) 287-8066


Augusta - The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) held a press conference today to provide Maine parents with advice related to an emerging problem of lead paint in toys. The press conference comes in the wake of a recent toy recall by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to lead contamination, the fifth such recall in the past twelve months.

“We are concerned that some of these toys containing lead paint may already be in Maine homes,” said HHS Commissioner John R. Nicholas. “We want to make sure that parents have as much as information as possible to prevent exposing their children to this toxin.”

The most recent toy recall, issued August 19, was of a children’s table and chair set that were painted with lead paint. Earlier this year, CPSC issued a recall of over 150 million children’s necklaces sold in vending machines. Many of the recalled toys are made in foreign countries, particularly China, Mexico, and India. Antique toys, especially those built before 1950, are also at higher risk.

The vast majority of identified lead poisoning in Maine comes from paint found in homes built before 1978, the year that residential lead paint was banned. Nonetheless, lead continues to be a major environmental hazard in Maine.

“Lead toxins can damage the developing brain cells of young and unborn children and can cause learning disabilities,” said Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director of HHS’s Bureau of Health. “We need to be sure that lead paint hazards are removed from the home wherever possible and that all young children are screened,” she added.

State health officials noted several important steps parents can take to insure that their children are not poisoned from toys containing lead. In addition to noting the types of toys at highest risk, CPSC provides an updated list of all children’s toys that have been recalled on their web site, www.cpsc.gov.

If a parent suspects a toy that is not part of a specific recall is lead-contaminated, a screening test for lead can be done by using a swab kit that is available at most hardware stores. If a child under age six has been exposed to a lead-contaminated toy, the child’s health care provider should be consulted and lead testing be considered.

“All children should be screened for lead poisoning at one and two years of age,” said MaryAnn Amrich, the Bureau of Health’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Director. “Our screening rate for one-year-old children in Maine children has nearly doubled in the last 8 years,” she added, “but we still have room for improvement, especially among our two-year-olds.”

There have been as many as 6,000 children since 1994 identified as having elevated lead levels. About 800 children each year were reported from 1994 to 1998, although that number has dipped to 400 per year for the period from 1999 to 2003.

More information on lead poisoning prevention is available on the World Wide Web at mainepublichealth.gov.