Sunday, December 16, 2007

Getting the lead out

I loose track of the number of TV news stories about this or that child's toy recalled for "excessive" or "dangerous" amounts of lead. The toy maker is inevitably Chinese, the effects are always dire, and good luck finding Christmas toys that aren't made in China.
Never is the amount of lead mentioned. Are we talking about 40 percent lead? 1% lead, 1 part per million? one part per billion? Modern chemical analysis equipment is so sensitive that it can detect tiny levels of anything, in anything. Are we talking about a trace amount of lead that might be detected by modern equipment, or are we talking about a thick coat of pure white lead oxide paint? Modern newsies are innumerate, so we never get the real facts of the story, numbers, just the opinions. Opinions are like a**h***s, every one has one.
Latest lead story, this morning, reports Christmas lights with the bulbs soldered together with standard 60-40 tin-lead solder. The precautions recommended over the radio were more appropriate for handling plutonium or beryllium. To be hazardous the child would have to remove the light bulbs, put them in the mouth, and suck on the soldered tip for about a month. All without breaking the glass bulb, sharp fragments of which will cut. Somehow I don't worry about children sucking on light bulbs as a hazard. Surely the most ignorant parent would not allow their kids to chew on light bulbs.
How much of the lead in toys furore is really safety related and how much is anti Chinese imports related?
Especially as metallic lead isn't terribly dangerous, so long as you don't eat it. According to the MSDS lead is not terribly reactive with anything. Half the water pipes in the US are copper tubing soldered together with 50-50 tin lead solder. The water in the pipes doesn't dissolve out enough lead to matter. We survived 50 years of gasoline spiked with tetra ethyl lead. The major hazard connected with lead was the use of white lead as a pigment in house paint. The paint would peels and small children would eat the chips cause the lead dioxide tasted sweet. White paint was converted over to titanium dioxide in the 1960's.

No comments: