CBC MARKETPLACE: HEALTH » LEAD
Lead in toys and jewellery
Broadcast: March 6, 2001 | Producer:
Ines Colabrese; Researcher: Leonardo Palleja
Few materials hurt children as
much as lead
In the past 10 years, Canadians have bought a lot of products
containing dangerous amounts of lead: from blinds to soft
plastic toys to children's raincoats.
Many of those products are intended specifically for children.
That's a big worry, because few materials hurt children as
much as lead. It can delay intellectual development, cause
children to behave aggressively, and aggravate health problems
later in life.
You'd think that would be enough to get the lead out of products
intended for children. Yet, it may be surprising to find that
there are still more sources of lead in toys and in jewellery
sold for children.
Three years ago, Lyndsey
Svendsen of Calgary came very close to suffering from
lead poisoning because of a small piece of jewellery
Three years ago, seven-year-old Lyndsey Svendsen of Calgary
came very close to suffering from lead poisoning. It was all
because of a little pendant that was part of a necklace.
Like many children, small objects in Lyndsey's hands sometimes
wound up in her mouth. So it was with the pendant.
When the necklace broke, Lyndsey's father, Norm, noticed
what he thought was lead. A quick test from a commercial kit
confirmed their fears.
Paediatrician Dr. Starr Cardwell found that Lyndsey was just
a hair away from being classified a lead poisoned child.
"I would describe this as an eye-opener," Cardwell
told Marketplace. "An eye-opener that has me
concerned about the health of children across the country."
"Health Canada has
been on this," says Lesley Svendsen. "They picked
up the necklace and sent it to their lab and the results
came back and said it was pure"
For three months, Lyndsey underwent regular blood tests to
monitor her lead levels.
Lyndsey's mother, Lesley, thought her daughter could not
be an isolated incident. The jewellery her daughter was playing
with was widely available across the country.
Lesley Svendsen contacted the local Calgary media. She did
interviews for radio and television and let Health Canada
know about her concerns.
"Health Canada has been on this," Lesley Svendsen
said. "Initially they came and picked up the necklace
and sent it to their lab and the results came back and said
it was pure."
It was pure 100 per cent lead.
Not an isolated case
no reason to believe it was an isolated case," says Health Canada's
"We had no reason to believe it was an isolated case,"
Health Canada's Charles Ethier told Marketplace.
"That's one of the reasons that prompted us to carry
on with the survey, to see if there were other products out
there that might contain lead."
Ethier is the Director General of Health Canada's Product
Safety Program. He sent members of his department shopping.
They bought 95 pieces of jewellery intended for children.
More than two-thirds contained between 50 and 100 per cent
The worry is what that could do to children, especially since
they love to put things in their mouths. That's one of the
most harmful ways of ingesting lead.
"The amount of lead
that can start to cause developmental problems in a child's
brain is the amount of lead you can put on the head of
pin," says Kathleen Cooper, Canadian Environmental
It doesn't take much lead to start causing problems in children,
says Kathleen Cooper, a senior researcher with the Canadian
Environmental Law Association and a specialist on lead.
"Just by way of comparison," Cooper told Marketplace,
"the amount of lead that can start to cause developmental
problems in a child's brain is the amount of lead you can
put on the head of pin."
Health Canada agrees that it takes very little lead to cause
problems for children.
Marketplace asked to see the list of 95 pieces
of toy jewellery the department tested, so we could report
which ones had high levels of lead.
Health Canada's Charles Ethier declined.
"I would be concerned about providing a list,"
Ethier told Marketplace, "because that might
give consumers a false sense of security that it was limited
only to that list of jewellery".
Ethier recommends that parents be cautious about all types
of jewellery that might be inexpensive or that might appear
to contain lead.
"If there are specific items that consumers want to
know about," Ethier added, "they can contact us
and we'll them whether that was something that we tested
but to give out a list would not accomplish the objective
that we're trying to meet."
Ethier says his department can quickly confirm whether the
jewellery you are worried about contains lead if it's
one of the 95 products they tested. Otherwise Health Canada
might ask you to send in the product and they will test it.
We took Ethier up on his offer and called Health Canada's
Toronto office to see if products we'd seen on store shelves
were on their lead list.
The Health Canada representative was unable to give us specific
"I wouldn't be able to tell you," he said over
the phone. "Some would have lots of lead, some would
have nothing. Our warning said to avoid the product all together.
Because we couldn't identify specifics."
Health Canada asks industry to restrict lead levels
this piece of jewellery. Its lead content registered 88,954 PPM.
The acceptable limit is 65.
Health Canada has asked the jewellery industry to keep lead
levels down to 65 parts per million.
Health Canada says that number allows for lead that is pervasive
in our world. Anything at or below 65 PPM shows that there
is no additional lead added to the product.
With that in mind, Marketplace set out to see if
there is still jewellery on the shelves meant for children,
containing lead levels higher than 65 parts per million.
We bought two pieces of jewellery, both from Toys R Us:
- a heart pendant necklace: lead content of 80,287 parts
- a candy pendant necklace: lead content 88,954 parts per
Both products had the name Bevy's Babes on the tag. We contacted
Toys R Us and informed them of our test results.
This piece registered
80,287 PPM. For more results from the Marketplace lead tests, click
The chain sent the following reply by e-mail:
"Based on the information you have provided us with
we have pulled that product off the floor."
We also took our results to Health Canada's Charles Ethier
and asked him why these items could still be on Canadian
"There is nothing preventing the sale of those particular
items at the retail level," Ethier explained. "Those
products are not regulated and there is nothing preventing
Jewellery isn't the only children's product made with lead.
Over the past 10 years many products for children have been
found to have lead in them. Health Canada says it will begin
testing for lead in toys this summer. We wanted to see what
Marketplace tests toys and novelties
Marketplace tested ten toys and novelty items. The
toys we bought came back with very low levels of lead. But
the novelty items didn't fare so well.
- key chain 165 PPM
- paint on some pencils 289 PPM
- more results
For several years, Health Canada has been saying it will
soon have a new policy, maybe even a law banning lead from
products especially those for children.
Ethier says it has been put off until at least 2002. He stresses
that Canada needs a regulation prohibiting intentional addition
of lead in consumer products for household use. He says the
law is needed now.
"Like any regulatory process it's very long, it's very
complicated," Ethier notes. "It's a step by step
process that we have to go through."
Health Canada does have the power to get hazardous consumer
products off the shelves. The department announces many recalls
and advisories which are reported on this website.
But -except in very rare circumstances- the recall process
The federal government lacks the power to demand that an
industry recall consumer products. It can recall medical devices
and a few other things. With respect to consumer products
it's not a recall, it's a warning or an advisory.
For the Svendsens their story did not end with the first
"It was a year later, she was at a birthday party with
seven little 6 year old girls," Lesley Svendsen recalls.
"They received their treat bags at the end of the party.
I was looking through their treat bags and out comes this
It too was made of lead.
Dr. Cardwell has that necklace in her files now. One indication
that a pendant may be made of lead is you can write with it.
Lesley Svendsen wants change from the retail end. She has
this plea for the industry:
"I beg of you, please stop putting this stuff on your
shelves. These are children. How dare they?"