Monday, January 12, 2009

Paige, Lead Poisoning in Toys

In Mary Beckman’s article “A Hazardous Playmate,” she discusses the recent recall of millions of toys that contain unacceptable levels of lead. She explains that while the levels of lead have actually decreased in the last thirty years, this toxic metal continues to come out of toys and into the mouths of many babies and young children. This problem is very dangerous because lead has the potential to damage the brain and also can lead to acute lead poisoning. These problems are caused by lead’s interference with the body’s biochemistry. Lead causes anemia by replacing the iron in the hemoglobin, which is a red blood cell protein that carries oxygen in the blood. Lead can also interfere with the neurons that are responsible for a child’s learning and memory, this can damage brain cells and affect intelligence. However, Beckman points out that lead does leave the body over time. There are three ways to help a child who has lead-contaminated blood, the first is to remove them from the source. Second, eating a diet high in calcium, zinc and iron can displace the lead. Finally, drugs can be taken which grab the lead and pull it into the urine. While it is not sure whether or not lead leads to a permanent loss in intelligence, it is important to make sure that toys and other products do not contain harmful levels of lead, which have previously been banned by the government.

Unfamiliar terms

• Neurons: a cell, which transmits nerve impulses and is the basic functional unit of the nervous system

• Lead encephalopathy: occurs at high levels of lead poisoning when children become drowsy and difficult to rouse

Upon reading this article I was at first concerned for the young children that I know who may have played with the toys that were recalled. After reading Beckman’s entire article I started thinking; I wonder how much lead I came across as a child? Or even what about today? Beckman calls lead poisoning a “silent problem” because symptoms do not become apparent until it is too late. While I can’t remember a time when I had the symptoms described for lead poisoning or lead encephalopathy, I wonder what the level of lead in my blood was as a child as well as today. Beckman also says that some researchers believe that lead poisoning in children hinders certain abilities to learn and can even drop IQ points. I wonder, if this information is true, how many IQ points might I have lost due to my favorite toys as a child? It seems silly, but might I be better at math had I not played with my My Size Barbie and Wedding Day Midge so often? Or, could I possibly have gotten into Harvard or Yale had I not played with my Polly Pockets? My thoughts are that I would have turned out just the same. However, this information did make me think about such possibilities. I can only hope that from now on, companies like Mattel and Fisher-Price will look more closely into the making of their toys in case the population really has been losing IQ points.

Because today’s scientists know so much more about the problems lead proposes, I feel that we are better able to keep lead level low in the American population. Beckman already discusses three ways with which to help children who have already been exposed, however, if consumers and corporations read Beckman’s article, they can see that it is as simple as monitoring what goes into the toys that will decrease this danger.

Beckman, Mary. A Hazardous Playmate. Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2004. F3.

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