Monday, October 8, 2007

Get the Lead Out

by Rebecca Reno, Senior Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

The presence of lead in children’s toys has been a recurring news story the past few months following the recall of millions of toys by Mattel. Information has been widely available to parents in order to identify which toys pose a risk, and they are given detailed instructions regarding how to properly dispose of them.

Although the number of news stories reporting the dangers of lead has increased exponentially, they often fail to point out one critical angle of the story: lead is not a new issue nor is it one relegated simply to the arena of children’s toys. Particularly for low income families and children of color, lead is a poisonous substance that has, and continues to pose, a great risk to children’s physical health, mental development, academic potential, and subsequently their lifelong opportunities.

One of the primary contributors to this racialized and class-based issue is older, deteriorating housing stock with peeling paint. Factor in concerns over neighborhood safety and too few public spaces for children, and a situation exists where parents are afraid to let their children play outdoors. Consequently, children are relegated to spending hours inside where they are at greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards such as lead, and are more likely to develop chronic health problems including asthma. The effects of lead are many and severe and may include neurological damage, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, stunted or slowed growth, impaired hearing, and a decrease in IQ points, just to name a few. Even more disturbing is that this damage is irreversible.

When society segregates low income families and people of color into older, run-down, neglected neighborhoods we are not only limiting their access to opportunities spatially, but we are constraining them physically as well. The presence of lead in toys raised red flags and united parents concerned about the safety and wellbeing of our nations’ children. More needs to be done to raise awareness about the presence and danger of lead for marginalized populations so that the publicity this issue has generated, and the associated concern can carry over into the areas where lead has been threatening the next generation for decades.

Photo of toys by Susan Etheridge, The New York Times
Photo of deteriorating paint from the City of St. Louis Department of Health

1 comment:

  1. These recalls are getting out of hand. I'm afraid that this is only the beginning and we're going to see alot more as we get into the Christmas time. I now go to every day to make sure I have the latest news.

    It's also got guidelines for toy safety and a list of safe lead-free made in USA toys and where to buy them.