Lead where you least expect it

As many people have no doubt heard now about lead contamination in water pipes of Flint, Michigan and the aging plumbing infrastructure around this country, lead contamination is still one of those health hazards most people assume cannot happen to them. In the coming weeks we will be discussing various ways you may become exposed to lead, and potential ways to keep you and the ones you care about safe. Our mission in not to scare, but to make people aware that with a few steps you can limit your lead exposure.

Do you know:

  • That lead is in 2nd place (behind arsenic) on the U.S. government’s Most Hazardous Substance List?  (https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/spl/index.html)
  • That lead is one of six common air pollutants in the USA (https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants)
  • Than lead enters the body through inhalation, ingestion or through the skin.
  • Today at least 4 million households have children living in them that are being exposed to high levels of lead. (https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/)
  • That lead accumulates in the body and its effects are catastrophic and even fatal?

Although blood lead levels continue to decline in the United States, there is still too much exposure to high concentrations of lead.  Exposure can occur at work, at home through  contaminated clothing, hobbies such as target shooting, stained glass art, fishing sinkers, jewelry and pottery, etc.

LUCKILY, lead is not easily absorbed into the body and it is easy to protect yourself. Wash your hands and face before you eat, drink or smoke. Keep your contaminated clothing separate.

Use Clean-All Hand & Body Soap regularly!

Happily Leaded After…

According to a recent lawsuit filed against Disneyland multiple attractions at the amusement park contain high levels of lead.  The Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation claims that the tests they have conducted found nearly twenty times the legal limit in some rides. One sample taken from the stained-glass Pinocchio window at the Village Haus restaurant contained nearly 350 micrograms of exposed lead.  California state law requires warnings to be posted where exposure to lead exceeds 0.5 micrograms per day.

I had heard about this while watching the morning news and was immediately interested in researching it for a post.  Upon doing so I found that not only was Disneyland aware that these attractions contained lead, they felt they had complied with all “signage requirements” per state law.  I was surprised by Disney’s statement and that they had not considered replacing the toxic metal.  I also think it’s irresponsible to simply require a sign to warn the general public that an amusement park attraction contains unsafe amounts of lead according to California state law.  I don’t think anyone would notice or actually consider a “Lead Warning” while enjoying a fun day out with their family.

While no one has come forward stating that they are suffering from lead poisoning it should be mentioned that it is extremely difficult to diagnose.   Ms. Hartmann has a good point about Disney’s reluctance to remove the toxic metal “Disney certainly has the money to buy a few non-toxic hunks of metal, and it seems like it would be worth it to get environmental groups off their case – not to mention, ensure that kids really aren’t poisoning themselves at the park.” This makes sense to me not only on Disney’s behalf but also in regards to California state law.  If the metal is toxic it should be removed.

Points of Contamination

Since stained glass work has become a popular hobby, here are some important points of contamination to consider in order to stay safe.

  • The main exposure to the hobbyist comes in the form of lead dust and fumes during soldering.  Higher soldering temperatures also releases more fumes than at lower temperatures.
  • Working with lead came during cutting, sawing and stretching can also cause exposure. Lead came has various alloys such as copper, brass and zinc for strength; hollow lead came has zinc in the channels.
  • Copper foil  also presents a safety issue during wrapping, cutting, soldering, beading and tinning.
  • Restoring old stained glass is another health hazard because it often contains oxidized lead, a white powdery substance which can be inhaled.  Dust in the plaster and fillings around old stained glass should also be avoided.

Here are some safety precautions for your consideration:

  • The use of non lead solder, which contains less toxic elements like cadmium or antimony.
  • Wetting down old cames or old frames to lessen the spread of lead dust.
  • Reduce sawing by using a sharp knife or tin snips.
  • Adequate ventilation using Hepa filters.
  • Isolating the work area, so contamination does not spread to the house and other members of the family, especially children, who are at higher risk of contamination.
  • Vacuuming with Hepa filters or wet mopping the dust.
  • Regular cleaning of all surfaces in the work area, walls, work surfaces as well as tools and equipment.
  • Most importantly, follow personal washing guidelines.  Check out our hand washing post.

Should stained glass hobbyists be concerned about lead poisoning?

Yes, to put it bluntly.  We’ve seen many posts and replies on stained glass blogs and forums stating that “lead exposure isn’t that big of a deal”.  We feel that your safety and health are “big deals”.  If we could we’d respond to them all like this:

Safety is definitely an issue when dealing with toxic heavy metals, such as lead came, copper, cobalt, etc. and washing with regular soap isn’t the solution you might think it is.  First of all, most people who work with toxic metals as a hobby, like stained glass artists, don’t wash the way they should, i.e. getting a good lather with a special cleaner for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing well and rinsing and then scrubbing again for at least 20 seconds before rinsing once more.

An even more important consideration is the problem of lead dust on your hands and body.  Lead dust can often not be seen which is why lead testing kits are sold in many hardware and home renovation outlets.  Then lead dust is hard to get rid of because it tends to stick to the skin and has a static charge that makes it even harder to wash off.  And once it has contact with water, lead dust becomes more easily absorbed by the body, and therefore more dangerous.

Careful washing, not touching your face without washing, wearing a good face mask, proper ventilation, isolating the work area, proper cleaning of all exposed surfaces and laundering clothing will all help keep you safe and shouldn’t keep you from enjoying a creative activity like making stained glass.

Lead in the Local News

As a mother, I am always conscious of the health of my children.  Two news articles in the Miami Herald caught my attention and deserve comment.  The first concerns children’s toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission just lowered the amount of lead that is allowed in toys and other children’s product sold in the U.S.  The U.S. now has one of the lowest limits in the world, which is good, because there is no known safe level of lead for human beings.  But that raises the question about the lead in toys from other countries who have different standards.  Be aware of the risk to your children from toys that could harm them because of the amount of lead.

The second article deals with contamination in parks, which can pose a risk to children. If the park where your children play was created from landfill, there can be contamination from toxic heavy metals.  Olinda Park in northwest Miami Dade county is getting a cleanup costing $ 1-2 million dollars.  Seems the soil was contaminated from an old incinerator ash dump and lead concentrations were more than ten times the safe level!  Contamination from pesticides, such as DDT (banned many years ago) and gasoline byproducts are fairly common in  landfill sites used as parks nationwide.  Clean up can be expensive and therefore put on the back burner in this economy, but it is worth making sure, because children, especially those under six years, are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.

Check with the Environmental Protection Agency in your area to make sure your park is safe!

Clean-All Now Available Online!

That’s right. After many arduous months we can proudly say that you can now order Clean-All Heavy Metals®Hand & Body Soap online. Check us out at www.buycleanall.com. And of course suggestions are always appreciated.

F.Y.I. – Cobalt

To revert back to our theme of getting the information you need so you “Don’t put your health in other people’s hands”, I did some research on cobalt, a toxic heavy metal that is # 49 on the government’s list of Hazardous Substances.

Not to be confused however, with Cobalt, the discontinued compact car, cobalt is a natural element and heavy metal that plays a small but beneficial role in human health as a component of Vitamin B12, essential for good health.  It has also been used as a treatment of anemia because it causes red blood cells to be produced.  But like other heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, too much exposure can cause health problems.  So it’s important to understand how and where exposure can occur.

Cobalt occurs in many different chemical forms, and can be found in numerous industries:

Alloys (mixtures of metals)

Dyes and pigments

Paint Industry

Scrap Metals




Chemistry/Crystal Sets

Drill bits and machine tools

Diamond tooling

Porcelain enamels

The list is not all inclusive, but certainly can help you identify the possibility of cobalt poisoning, which can occur by breathing in dust containing cobalt, by skin contact with dust or solutions containing cobalt or by eating, drinking or smoking in cobalt work areas.

Everyone is naturally exposed to low levels of cobalt in the air, water and in food.  However, if you live near hazardous wastes sites or industrial areas that process or make products containing cobalt, exposure to higher levels of cobalt can occur.

Health symptoms can include chronic lung problems, such as asthma, pneumonia, or even pulmonary fibrosis.  Lesser problems would include dermatitis and rashes.  Swallowing large amounts of cobalt is rare, but if done over long periods of time, will cause serious health issues, such as cardiomyopathy, nerve and thyroid problems.

Here are some helpful links:

http://www.cobalt-poisoning.com/  – Hip Implants


Why the drop in crime?

Lead is in the news on a regular basis.  After all, it is listed as the second most dangerous substance (after arsenic) on the government’s list.  And it’s been around forever.  Lead occurs naturally in small quantities in the earth’s crust, and it has been mined, smelted and used in the manufacture of products for thousands of years, although the first health effects of lead exposure were noted only in 1786.

Although now the major exposure to lead for most adults is in the workplace (battery manufacturers, ammunition makers, lead miners, auto body repair, painting, scrap metal work, electrical work, etc.) The government took an important role in limiting the population’s general exposure to lead in 1974, when the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting the lead in gasoline, and banned the use of lead in household paint (although it is still present in older buildings).

The results are only now being assessed: in 2007, economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes studied the decline in violent crime during the 1990’s and attributed it to the ban on lead in gasoline and paint, predicting that there would be greater declines in the future.  Rick Nevin, another economist has shown this to be the case in other countries.

Then just this past week, an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Hard Times, Fewer Crimes” May 28, 2011 lists many reasons for the dramatic drop in violent crime, now at a 40-year low.  The reasons given include larger prison populations, better security systems, refined hot-spot policing along with the drop by four-fifths in blood lead levels of Americans from 1975 (following the ban on lead in gasoline and paint) to 1991.

These studies underline the danger of exposure to lead, and clearly demonstrate that eliminating lead from our environment can have enormous health benefits to the human population.  Unfortunately, lead is still around us, in the air (dust from deteriorating paint, from industrial waste), in water, in the earth, and in many of the products we assume are safe, such as cosmetics, health home remedies, toys and clothing.  As industries become global, safety standards can vary from country to country and may not offer the protection we think.

So protect yourself by informing yourself about your home environment, your workplace, your hobbies, etc.  For additional information, contact your state’s Department of Health and Safety or OSHA, National Lead Information Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development Agency.

“Paradise Remade”

Haina is known for it's extreme pollution. Here, a small girl plays on one of the "worst" beaches.

A front page article in The Miami Herald entitled “Paradise Remade” caught my attention this morning.  The reporter, Frances Robles, spent time in God’s Paradise, a low-income collection of settlements in a city called Haina in the Dominican Republic, where she gathered information on the children who had been poisoned by playing in the remnants of a battery recycling plant.  The story eventually finishes in the positive:  the site was cleaned up and a park built, a dramatic change brought about the cooperation between the local activist residents, environmentalists, the business sector, academia and the government.  The process, however, took more than twenty years and left behind at least 55 damaged children.  The catalyst was the intervention of the New York based Friends of Lead Free Children and the environmental group, Blacksmith Institute, which had added Haina to its list of top most polluted places on the planet.

In the Internet age of constant news and overwhelming information, it is apparent that the problems of heavy metal poisoning will not just spontaneously resolve themselves.  As the ironically-named God’s Paradise makes clear, it takes action and work and cooperation on all levels, from the local to the international.  It takes awareness, understanding of the issues, education and interest.  In other words, it takes a lot of time.

But time is the enemy of small children, who can grow up with severe health problems if they are constantly exposed to toxic heavy metals over a long period of time.  The affected children of God’s Paradise had “blank stares”, seizures and learning disabilities, among other issues.  So what is a parent to do?

To start, inform yourself.  Easier said than done, I found out this morning when I got 1,250,000 results for my query “children exposed to heavy metals”.  WOW!! That’s enough to send anyone into shock and disbelief!  However, as I surfed through 50 pages or more, I realized that you definitely need  a system to navigate your way to some useful information:

First of all, search for government agencies such as the health department, state department of human services, or child welfare agencies for your specific area.  You will be able to find practical and useful information, such as how to reduce your exposure to heavy metals in your area and in your home, health effects of these metals and how to get more information.

Secondly, depending on your interest and involvement, search for research articles, from reputable academic institutions and foundations, regarding specific health issues that may be affecting your child.  However, be aware that there are many sites that use scare tactics to sell their product, such as testing services, water filter systems, chelation therapy, etc.

Finally, there are many serious research studies available online that might yield useful information, such as a recent publication in the NATO series “Environmental Security” entitled Environmental Heavy Metal Pollution and Effects on Child Mental Development (ISBN 978-94-007-0255-4).

Above all, realize that we are all exposed daily to various environmental hazards with no health consequences.  Being educated and aware make all the difference!


Photo by Chris Jordan. Project "Running the Numbers".

While idly watching tv on a leisurely Sunday afternoon I happened upon a PBS documentary called “Bag It”.  I’m sure you can guess what it’s about.  Plastic!  Plastic and its environmental and health effects.  It’s an interesting documentary if you’d like to gain more information on this topic.  However, I’m sure under certain circumstances this documentary can be considered controversial and even political, so for now I’ll focus on plastic and BPA.  I actually hadn’t heard of it until fairly recently when doing some shopping for a baby shower.  I noticed a lot of bottles and pacifiers claiming to be BPA-Free.  At the time I shrugged it off as another marketing ploy.  But just like most things that you are introduced to, once I found out about it the more I saw it everywhere.  Suddenly I was seeing articles about BPA, studies and news entries.

Bisphenol A or BPA is a compound used in some plastic manufacturing.  From the research I’ve found online it appears that recyclable plastics # 1, 2, 4 and 5 usually do not contain BPA.  However # 7 does contain BPA, while # 3 and 6 sometimes do.  Most exposure to BPA occurs in one’s daily diet.  Some studies find that BPA exposure can occur through one’s skin or even the air.  BPA is found in many daily items such as: water bottles, CD’s, DVD’s, sales receipts, the lining of food and beverage cans, baby bottles and formula.

Newborn infants and children up to the age of six appear to be the most sensitive to BPA.  Exposure to BPA in children seems to affect the brain and the prostate gland; it can also cause behavioral disorders.  There have been some very controversial studies that link exposure to BPA to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  Of course it doesn’t stop there; BPA in our environment seems to cause adverse effects in most animals.  It seems to primarily affect the endocrine system in aquatic invertebrates and the reproduction systems in amphibians and reptiles.

To be quite honest, though there have been many studies conducted on BPA it’s difficult to find a reputable source to back them up.  Even the FDA’s stance is weak.  They seem to say that it may cause harm but they do not recommend adjusting your daily routine.  As always we suggest that you inform and decide for yourself.  The Wikipedia page on Bisphenol A was particularly interesting.  A brief summary on each country’s stance on BPA is included.

While researching BPA I found myself wondering if there is anything one can do to limit exposure since it appears to be everywhere.  But there are a few things you can do now:

1.       Check your recyclable plastics for storage.  REMOVE any that are # 7’s.  (Also, you might want to consider switching to glass)

2.       Do NOT heat food in any plastic material

3.       Do NOT wash plastic in the dishwasher

4.       Do NOT wash plastic with harsh detergents

5.       Avoid canned and packaged foods as much as possible