2 December 2010

Vintage goods a toxic threat to yuppies

by Kate Melville

Toys, home décor items, crockery, architectural salvage, kitchen utensils and jewelry purchased through antique stores, junk shops and thrift sales have been found to contain surface lead concentrations more than 700 times higher than the federal limit. The problem of toxic lead in used consumer products is extremely widespread and at levels that are far beyond safe limits, say researchers in the The Journal of Environmental Health.

The researchers, Laurel Sharmer of the State University of New York, Anna Harding of Oregon State University and Steven Shackley of the University of California, Berkeley, purchased a collection of used items from second-hand stores, junk shops and antiques stores in Virginia, New York and Oregon. The items included salvaged construction pieces, antique toys, common dishware, jewelry and other collectibles.

Using X-ray fluorescence, the items were quantitatively tested for lead content. Nineteen of the 28 items violated the federal standard for lead, which is 600 parts per million. The amount of lead ranged from twice the federal limit in a metal ice cream scoop to 714 times the limit in a salt shaker.

Two of the items tested were salvaged construction items. Both pieces of salvage had peeling and chalky paint that rubbed off easily. One of the pieces, a white window frame, had 4,747 parts per million of lead, and a blue window shutter had 23,161 parts per million of lead.

"The sale of used items in the United States is not regulated by any federal agency and as a result, it is possible that Americans are bringing the lead poisoning hazards of past generations back into their homes," Sharmer warned.

The researchers notes that the trend of home decorating with salvage means that many middle and upper-middle class consumers are buying items in second-hand stores for an antique look. "Health care providers assume the only children at risk for lead poisoning are those who live in poor neighborhoods, where lead exposure has historically been more of an issue," Sharmer explained. "Many providers may not think to suggest blood lead screenings for patients in middle- or upper-class families. The public health threat to all people, regardless of income level, is very real."

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Source: Oregon State University