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Lead Paint- a Problem?

Earlier last month the Boy Scouts of America announced the recall of approximately 1.5 million plastic totem badges because of “unacceptable” levels of paint used in making the badges. Specific levels of lead were not addressed. The badges were awarded for “progress towards rank” and were given to Cub Scouts between 7 and 8 years old. The totems were to be worn on the button of the right shirt pocket.

The Consumer Product Safety Council Office of Public affairs released a bulletin on October 9, 2007 stating that the paint on the badges “contained excessive levels of lead, violating the federal lead paint standard.” The recommendation was to “immediately remove the badges from clothing and keep the badges away from children.”

I remember growing up in the sixties and seeing the pictures of children in houses eating paint chips. In many cases the paint at that time was lead based. The effects of an over exposure to lead (or other heavy metals) are significant and can be long term. In children the effects can include brain damage; nervous system damage; hearing disorders; behavioral problems; headaches; and slow growth and development. But how much of a threat is the paint on a Cub Scout badge that is worn on the shirt pocket of his uniform?

How much lead is dangerous in paint? Is there a difference between paint on houses and paint on toys? Is all lead paint dangerous? Most of the information I could find about lead dealt with house paint and lead dust. Information on paint on toys was difficult to locate. The US EPA bulletin “Lead in Paint, Dust and Soil- Basic Information” looks at the issue of where there is likely to be a hazard from lead paint. The section of the bulletin states:
• “Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
• Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
o Windows and window sills.
o Doors and door frames.
o Stairs, railings, and banisters.
o Porches and fences.
Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard. “

This raises a question: If lead based paint that is used on window sills and railings where children can chew is not a hazard if it is in good condition, how much danger can there be from paint used in a Scout badge worn on a shirt?

I know that any lead is a concern. The smart action for the Scout office to do is recall the badges. Is this a good reaction or an over-reaction? I’d like to hear your comments in the forum.

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