After detecting excessive levels of lead in paints used on children’s playground equipment, the Health Ministry has instructed local authorities to use lead-free paints in public areas, especially those used by youngsters.
The paints and coatings in public areas, including children’s playgrounds, picnic tables and benches, were sampled at 50 locations Tel Aviv, Hadera and Bnei Brak in a cooperative operation with staff of the Israel Standards Institution (ISI) and University of Haifa funded by the Health and Environment Fund.
Although locations were tested in only three local authorities, the ministry said it does not mean the same dangers do not exist elsewhere.
Preliminary data indicated significant deviations of as much as 300% above the permitted lead concentration relative to the relevant US regulations for paints used on play items such as swings and ladders and facilities intended for the general public, such as picnic tables and benches.
In general, lead exposure can result in a variety of health effects including behavior, learning and development problems in children. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems and, at very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.
Children under six years of age are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, particularly babies and toddlers who may be exposed to lead when they put paint particles into their mouths and are in contact with dust containing lead.
According to professional literature, there is no shortterm risk of lead poisoning from paint in public areas, but the ministry said the exposure of the general public, especially children, to lead should be minimized to reduce the risk of long-term effects.
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The ministry pointed out that there is no prohibition regarding the use of lead in paints in Israel, except in toys and household products for children.
In the US, however, there has been legislation since 1977 restricting the lead content in household paints and public spaces.
According to the ISI, most house paints in Israel are environmentally friendly and do not contain high concentrations of lead.
The Health Ministry has asked the Education and Interior ministries to buy paint that is lead free or with a low lead content for use in public areas and educational institutions.
To reduce risk, it recommends that children wash their hands after playing in playgrounds, especially before eating.
Separately, the environmental medicine and public health and pediatrics department at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York reported last week that the omnipresent “fidget spinners” toy, which also is being used by adults for their calming effect, may be dangerous.
Lab tests conducted for the US Public Interest Research Group determined that two types of spinners sold in a large chain store were found to contain as much as 330 times the US federal legal limit for lead in children’s products. Most spinners are made in China.
“The findings on lead levels in fidget spinners that exceed federal safety standards for children’s toys highlights a fundamental problem that exists in the US today. Everyday items are widely available on the market without having had adequate premarket safety testing or labeling of contents.
“Parents need to know the products they purchase are safe whether they are marketed for young children or teens since lead exposure throughout the lifespan has the potential for long term health impacts,” the hospital experts said.
Health Ministry associate director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto told The Jerusalem Post that spinners in Israel are not checked for heavy metals.
Importers originally said the spinners were not toys but “educational objects” and, therefore, they did not have to be examined. The ISI has since decided, however, that spinners are toys and is looking into their safety aspects but not into lead levels, said Grotto.
“We are considering the possibility of testing spinners [for heavy metals] and related products on the market,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry and National Poison Control Center in Haifa has warned the public against using household detergents and other chemicals to make sticky, plastic-like material that, in turn, is used to make play objects. This do-it-yourself process includes mixing various materials such as glue, hair conditioner, shaving cream, laundry detergent and laundry softener, which contain hazardous chemicals, including borax.
The swallowing of borax by infants and small children, or repeated skin exposure to the substance, can cause serious poisoning, the ministry said, urging that all these chemicals be kept out of children’s reach and not be stored near food products or drinking glasses.
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