upr-header-1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Second-hand goods that contain lead are easy to find — they're also toxic

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A caution this morning about lead - not in the water but in vintage pieces and some new items popular at discount stores. As the Midwest Newsroom's Niara Savage reports, there is regulation, but some products can fall through the cracks.

NIARA SAVAGE, BYLINE: At an antique store in downtown Saint Charles, Mo., shoppers are trickling in to snag deals on vintage toys, furniture and dishes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: How are you?

SAVAGE: It's a scene repeated every day at thousands of stores and flea markets across the United States. Thirty-seven-year-old Jennifer Poupard found a vintage military-style trunk at a Michigan flea market in the 1990s. Then a teenager, she used it to store her records. She didn't know the green paint coating the trunk contained lead. Poupard held onto the trunk for years. Around 2014, her child, Wallace, started pulling up on the trunk. That's when Poupard noticed Wallace's motor skills were delayed.

JENNIFER POUPARD: And had eating and feeding issues. At 18, 19 months old was finally pulling to stand and would pull to stand at that trunk and turn around and run to me, and that is around when I noticed the numbers going up.

SAVAGE: The numbers were Wallace's blood lead levels. Wallace got tested regularly for lead. In 2014, the numbers came back at 5.3 micrograms per deciliter, putting Wallace's levels in the top 2 1/2% of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Poupard used a home lead test to swab items in her home and identify the culprit.

POUPARD: And I tested the trunk and that was positive - like, immediately bright red on the swab. And I was like, oh, OK, we found the source. We found the source.

SAVAGE: Patty Davis is with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates lead in goods and recalls products when levels are too high. The current standards in place for protecting kids from lead didn't go into effect until 2008.

PATTY DAVIS: You want to keep vintage products, vintage toys away from children. You want to keep - even the toys that you played with as a child, if they were made prior to 2008, you want to keep those away from children.

SAVAGE: Antique items aren't the only lead hazards consumers face. New products can also contain the toxin, especially if they aren't specifically intended for children. While items for kids must meet rigorous standards limiting lead content to 100 parts per million, for general-use items, there remain voluntary standards for lead content in items like jewelry. Kids are more vulnerable to lead poisoning because they are more likely to accidentally ingest it by putting their hands in their mouths and because their bodies and brains are still developing. Jose Bravo is with the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a group lobbying stores to demand manufacturers produce items without lead. Bravo says there's not enough coordinated federal protection.

JOSE BRAVO: Most often than not, people would say, well, yeah, you know, the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration or somebody is safeguarding our health when it comes to that. That's not the reality.

SAVAGE: The group's recent product screening report found that more than half of the 100 items purchased at discount stores contain toxic chemicals, including lead. These days, mom Jennifer Poupard avoids vintage items and feels safer using products made after lead-based paint was banned in 1978. And she's also cautious about new products that might contain lead. For NPR News, I'm Niara Savage.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIIV'S "TAKE YOUR TIME")

FADEL: This story comes to us from a collaboration between the Missouri Independent and the Midwest Newsroom investigating levels of lead in children.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIIV'S "TAKE YOUR TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Niara Savage