Mecklenburg County, N.C., may ask retailers to place warning labels on packages of miniblinds to warn of possible lead exposure hazards to children. However, reports of alarming levels of lead in foreign-made PVC window blinds have not prompted the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to change its standards or enforcement to ensure child safety, authorities said May 29.
Richard Frost, CPSC deputy director of public affairs in Silver Spring, Md., said May 30 the agency is evaluating the lead dust, PVC miniblind and child poisoning data from North Carolina and Arizona and has not made any decision regarding changes in federal regulation of miniblinds.
Edward H. Norman, North Carolina Department of Health and Natural Resources epidemiologist in Raleigh, said May 29 his agency has been able to ``document several children who are indeed suffering from lead poisoning for which we have been unable to diagnose any other form of exposure,'' except to plastic window blinds.
North Carolina state and county officials were among the first in the nation earlier this year to allege a correlation between child poisoning cases and PVC mini-blinds containing lead sulfate as a chemical stabilizer. Norman said the CPSC may not have reason to act. The only CPSC standards adopted on lead in dust apply to floors, windowsills and window troughs, but not miniblinds.
``There is no standard on whether the sill would be the most applicable standard for the window blind'' to determine its relative danger to child exposure, he said.
Michael Sinder, program director for the Window Covering Safety Council in New York, agreed, noting, ``There are no U.S. [lead safety] regulations that deal specifically with miniblinds or dust on miniblinds'' and their safe contact by children.
Sinder said, ``The important thing to keep in mind is that lead is part of the compound of the plastic, not like a lead-based paint that chips and can be ingested by children. We don't believe this lead will fall apart if you rub or touch it.''
He added, ``Lead is only harmful when ingested at certain levels. It cannot enter the body through the skin. Because lead is ubiquitous to our environment, we all ingest small amounts of lead every day,'' in food, air and water.
Norman said North Carolina health officials are ``in the midst of a big follow-up to the initial study'' and had passed their results ``on to CPSC, which is trying to independently confirm the results.''
By May 3, the North Carolina laboratory had tested 95 plastic miniblind samples, from 36 investigations in 20 counties, Norman said. Some 52 samples were of dust on miniblinds, of which half showed lead amounts exceeding a state standard for lead contamination of windowsills, Norman said.
Norman said dust samples taken from installed plastic mini-blinds showed high levels of lead, in addition to that found to be present in the blinds themselves. His department did not conduct testing on new, uninstalled plastic miniblinds.
Norman said routine inspections of North Carolina homes in January showed what appeared to be a real hazard in miniblinds containing lead that had not existed previously. ``We think [mini-blinds] may be the only form of exposure.''
In the absence of action by the CPSC, Mecklenburg County health inspector Dennis Salmen said his county is prepared to ask retailers to place warning labels on packages of miniblinds.
Both Salmen and Sinder said the miniblinds in question all are made in China, Taiwan or Mexico. Salmen said a Mecklenburg County test on new miniblinds indicates a presence of 2,000 to nearly 12,000 parts per million of lead in products from eight manufacturers in seven colors and in 12 sizes. A CPSC standard for exposure to lead in paint is 5,000 parts per million.
Otherwise, ``There's no screening process'' to determine if a miniblind is accessible to children, Salmen said.