My new home has vinyl blinds, which I once heard emit lead. Should I be worried?
—Sheila Gaspers, Raleigh, NC
Manufacturers of vinyl mini-blinds used to add lead as a plastic stabilizer to make the blinds more rigid, and for color retention. Sunlight and heat then broke down the plastic, leaving behind trace amounts of lead dust. After a child”s lead poisoning death in Arizona in 1996 was traced to vinyl blinds, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asked the industry to reformulate the vinyl used in these products to eliminate lead. Many companies, domestic and international, have since switched to tin or other metal stabilizers.
“We are unaware of any mini-blinds made or imported since the summer of 1996 that contain lead as an intentional ingredient,” says CPSC spokesman Ken Giles. CPSC guidelines are not legally binding, but they can, under the laws created by the Consumer Product Safety Act, restrict products that expose children to hazardous substances, according to Giles. Children, who may touch the blinds and then put their hands in their mouths, can ingest the lead dust. Symptoms of lead poisoning include anemia, hearing loss, hyperactivity, limited attention span, behavioral problems or learning disabilities. Even small amounts of lead can harm a child’s brain, kidneys and stomach.
Blinds can last a long time, and Giles estimates that there are tens of millions of lead-laden blinds still out there. In fact, up until 1996, some 25 million vinyl mini-blinds with added lead were being imported each year from China, Taiwan, Mexico and Indonesia. Because the lead component was not considered a manufacturer”s defect, the blinds couldn’t formally be recalled.
CPSC recommends that consumers with young children remove old vinyl mini-blinds from their homes and replace them with new mini-blinds made without added lead or with alternative window coverings. You can also test for lead in mini-blinds with a home test kit. One popular brand is Lead Check Swabs, available from Hybrivet Systems in Natick, Massachusetts.