New Source of Lead Poisoning Identified!
Each day, children bathe in it, play in it and are washed carefully in it. Yet, according to a special report on the April 19, 1995 edition of Good Morning America, porcelain bathtubs are one of the America’s most unexpected sources of lead exposure for children. Lead poisoning is currently considered the number one environmental health danger for children by the Centers for Disease Control.
The nationally televised report cited a study of over 600 tubs found that approximately 64 percent of the tubs tested had leachable lead on the surface. The tested tubs were of varying age and came from a wide range of domestic and import companies.
Good Morning America’s report focused on the Thomas family from a small town in Massachusetts. In spite of their efforts to identify and eliminate lead exposure in their home, their two children continued to have very high blood lead levels, requiring continuing medical treatments. The older child had a blood lead level of 47 micrograms per deciliter, while the second child (age 7 months) showed a level greater than 20 micrograms per deciliter.
Aside from negligible lead in the household dust, the only source of lead that could be identified in the children’s environment at the time was the lead-based paint in their home. Even though it was not peeling, they spent over $15,000 to have it professionally removed. Away from home during the abatement process (2 months), the children’s blood lead levels decreased to nearly normal levels (1 to 9 micrograms per deciliter). Within a week after moving back into the now lead-free and lead safe home, both children again showed significant elevated blood lead levels.
The family then purchased a home lead test kit called LeadCheck Swabs to test their ceramic ware. When her dishes tested negative for lead, Mrs. Thomas then used a LeadCheck Swab on the bathtub – the only remaining item in the house not yet tested for lead. The swab immediately turned pink, indicating the tub was leaching dangerous levels of lead. Every time the children bathed in the tub and played with their toys, they ingested lead simply by touching the tub and putting their wet fingers and toys in their mouths. The children ceased using the tub for their baths and within a few months their blood lead levels returned to nearly 10 micrograms per deciliter.
When she first tested the bathtub, Patricia Thomas immediately called the LeadCheck Information Hotline to ask questions. The company was surprised by this potential lead source, and sent its top R&D specialist to investigate. Numerous follow-up tests confirmed the initial finding – the bathtub was the problem.
“When Mrs. Thomas called our information hotline, we couldn’t believe that bathtubs could leach lead,” says Dr. Marcia Stone, president of HybriVet Systems, Inc. and inventor of LeadCheck Swabs. “Unfortunately, it’s true, and thousands of children are at risk.”
Continued testing of this and other bathtubs has confirmed the presence of leachable lead in porcelain bathroom fixtures. A baby wipe rubbed on the bottom of a tub picked up over 1000 micrograms of lead. Hands rubbed along the side of a LeadCheck positive tub were shown to pick up significant amounts of lead. Bath water allowed to sit in LeadCheck positive tubs leaches lead in amounts exceeding 50 parts per billion. Washcloths soaked in bath water and rubbed on the bottom of the tub concentrated significant amounts of lead.
The study had surveyed more than 750 bathtubs and found that, overall, 62% of all porcelain tubs tested positive with LeadCheck Swabs. Specifically, 77% of the cast iron tubs and 25% of the steel tubs tested positive. This source of lead most likely represents a significant exposure to only very young children with their high level of hand to mouth activity and propensity to “drink” the water during bath time.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 57 million U.S. homes have dangerously high lead levels. While bathtubs are a newly identified source of lead, other sources include deteriorating lead paint, water, plumbing, dust and ceramics, to name a few. According to Stone, the best solution is for the public to empower itself with information on the problem.
What is the solution to the lead problem? Refinishing. It is confirmed that refinishing lead positive tubs eliminates the leaching of lead by encapsulating the tub. The implications for the homeowner are obvious. After spending over $15,000 on lead abatement, Patricia Thomas found that she could have prevented the problem by simply having the tub refinished for only a few hundred dollars.
Bathtub restoration or replacement are the only two ways to solve the problem of lead leaching out from old porcelain enameled tubs. The most cost and time effective choice for getting rid of lead poisoning in a bathtub is re-glazing and sealing the tub against leaching. A professionally restored tub is warranted against coating failure for five years. Usually, they last a longer time if properly maintained. Interestingly, bathtubs that were tested as much as 8 years after refinishing were found to be free of any traces of lead.
If you are thinking of buying an older claw foot bathtub, make sure that you test it for lead before you use it.