Ottawa sets new lead limits

The federal government has set new limits on the amount of lead allowed in consumer products, particularly those directed at small children who are more vulnerable to the effects of the heavy metal.

The federal government has set new limits on the amount of lead allowed in consumer products, particularly those for small children who are more vulnerable to the effects of the heavy metal.

Target employee Dan Swift removes recalled Polly Pocket toys form the shelves at the store in Richmond, Va., 2007 file photo. Mattel recalled 9 million Chinese-made toys, including Polly Pockets play sets and Batman action figures, because of dangers to children from lead paint. ((Steve Helber/Associated Press))

"As a mom, I'm proud that our new, tough regulations will make Canada a world leader in strict lead reduction in consumer products, especially toys," stated health minister Leona Aglukkaq, at a news conference in Kanata, Ont.

In recent years hundreds of thousands of products have been pulled from the market because of high lead levels. The proposed regulations will reduce allowable levels of lead by 85 per cent and give the government legal authority to prevent the importation and sale of products that contain excessive amounts of lead.

"It's great news," said Rick Smith of the group Environment Defence. "I mean very significant news. This puts Canada at the forefront of the international community."

The new regulations will first target children's toys. In particular, the rules will apply to products for children under three. That would include baby bottle nipples, soothers, baby bibs and beverage straws.

Total lead content in those products would be limited to 90 mg/kg.

While most children's consumer products being sold in Canada already meet the proposed lead content regulations, the government says it is moving aggressively on the issue because of the number of non-compliant products still being imported into the country.

Lead most harmful to children

Even small amounts of lead can be harmful, especially to infants and young children. It can harm intellectual development, behaviour, growth and hearing in infants.

Fisher-Price toys that were subject to recall including Go Diego Go Mountain Rescue, and Birthday Dora, right, are seen on a store shelf in this file photo. Mattel Inc. and its Fisher-Price subsidiary were hit with a $2.3-million civil penalty for producing toys with unsafe levels of lead paint. ((Kevin Wolf/Associated Press))
"Exposure to lead has several detrimental effects on the brain of young children. The Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres is proud to support the new regulations," said Martin Laliberté, president of the Canadian Association of Poison Control Centres.

"We believe these important actions will contribute to the reduction of lead exposure for Canadian children," he said.

Pregnant women exposed to lead also face risks to their unborn children. Female workers exposed to lead have higher rates of miscarriages and stillbirths.

Because it is soft, pliable and easy to work with, lead has been used in a variety of consumer products over the years. Most recently it's been found in costume jewelry marketed to children and young adults.

Smith said the new regulations are welcome, but the government should also further restrict the amount of cadmium allowed in products.

Manufacturers have been replacing lead with cadmium, because it has similar properties. Like lead, it can also be harmful, especially to children.

NDP MP Megan Leslie told reporters it was great that the government is introducing more stringent regulations, but questioned how the government intends to enforce them. She also echoed Smith's concerns about cadmium being substituted in more products because of the tougher regulations around lead.