A shipment of 1,700 children’s shoes containing three times the acceptable levels of lead was stopped last week by Customs officers at the Port of Seattle. The shoes, which were on their way from China, were headed to a local distributor, and would have ended up on store shelves.
The shipment, which contained over $23,000 worth of children’s shoes, was flagged for examination by border officials who, upon testing them, found that they contained over 300 ppm of lead; the acceptable level is 100. U.S. Customs and Border Protection wasn’t clear as to why the shipment was targeted for testing.
Lead poisoning, especially in children, can be difficult to detect–symptoms range from irritability to weight loss, constipation, abdominal pain, and learning difficulties–which makes lead contamination of children’s products particularly scary. If your child began complaining of a stomach ache, it’s unlikely that the first thing you’d suspect was the shoes you purchased at a local retailer.
In 2011, more than $24 million worth of products were stopped at the border due to lead contamination–but it’s worrisome to consider how many millions more may have made it through and onto store shelves. Which is why consumer watchdog groups urge parents to be vigilant, and, when possible, purchase toys, clothes, and other products that were made domestically. But that can be tricky–according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Industry Report, 85% of children’s toys are imported from China, where manufacturing laws and limitations on toxins like lead are much less strict.
But what’s more concerning is that, even if only a fraction of lead-tainted products like this are being caught by Customs officers, there are many more that are being sold and distributed in China. Products made with lead aren’t just a concern for the Americans who may purchase them, they’re also horrible for the health of those who might make them or own them in China. Bruce Lanphear, a researcher at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, made this point to the Huffington Post:
Even if shoes are a smaller source for a child here, for the worker and the worker’s family it might be more important. To the extent that we can regulate consumer products and keep lead down to a minimum, we will not only protect children here but also in China.
It’s a relief that these shoes were stopped before they could be sold in the U.S., but it’s also a sobering reminder that lead toxicity is still very much a real concern–both for kids here and abroad.
Image: U.S. Customs and Border Protection