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Vigilant mom helps sniff out lead

Times Staff Writer

Mother knows best, even when it comes to lead contamination.

Multiple children’s products -- including backpacks, rain ponchos and vinyl lunchboxes -- tested positive for high levels of lead after a Santa Clarita mother found evidence of contamination using a home test swab, a nonprofit health organization said Tuesday.

The Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health found high traces of lead in a Disney-licensed “High School Musical” backpack and a Coleman youth rain poncho sent in by Meredith Stacy, who discovered traces of contamination using an over-the-counter lead test kit.

The backpack contained 13,000 parts per million of lead, more than 21 times the legal limit for lead in paint, according to the center.

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“It’s unbelievable how many items have lead,” Stacy said.

The center tested additional vinyl backpacks decorated with Thomas and Friends, Dora the Explorer and Chococat designs. All tested positive for high lead levels.

None of the items have been recalled, the center said.

Stacy said she began testing items for lead 10 years ago, after she heard a news report about tainted imported vinyl pool toys.

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Concerned about the health of her son, then 5, she inspected her own pool toys that she noticed were flaking and breaking down.

A lead test swab revealed the presence of lead.

“Every time I purchased a vinyl toy, I would test it,” Stacy said. “And almost every single time I tested a vinyl toy, it tested positive for lead.”

Alarmed at her discovery, Stacy began testing other items her son used. A swabbing inside his lunchbox revealed traces of lead where he placed his food. She said it got to the point where she tested the interior of 17 backpacks.

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All but one tested positive for lead.

Stacy said she contacted retailers and manufacturers to notify them of her findings.

She also contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which she said she believed was limited in the past in what it could do. Now, she said, it was probably not doing enough, given a more transparent regulatory environment.

The recent rise in product recalls has led Walt Disney Co. to take various steps to enhance existing safety compliance measures, said Nidia Caceros Tatalovich, senior manager of communications for Disney Consumer Products.

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“The safety of products bearing characters and the Disney brand is of critical importance to the company,” Caceros Tatalovich said. “We require all our licensed producers to comply with all applicable product safety laws and standards.” Last month, she said, Disney announced plans to conduct random tests for lead in its products.

The Center for Environmental Health has notified the state and the manufacturers and retailers about a possible violation of California’s Proposition 65, which requires retailers and manufacturers to post warnings for products that could expose consumers to trace amounts of lead, said Charles Margulis, the organization’s communications director.

“We won’t settle for a warning label,” Margulis said. “We want them to change the way they make the product.”

Until then, Stacy said she encouraged parents to test their children’s toys themselves.

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“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the parent,” Stacy said. “I have a feeling that if we keep the pressure on these companies . . . I am sure things will change.”

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theo.milonopoulos@ latimes.com


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