Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer at a hearing entitled "Lead and Children's Health"
October 18, 2007
OPENING STATEMENT OF
CHAIRMAN BARBARA BOXER
"HEARING ON LEAD AND CHILDREN'S HEALTH"
OCTOBER 18, 2007
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
We have known for decades that lead is highly toxic. And with each passing year, more scientific studies show that lead harms our children at even lower levels than previously believed. Lead damages kids' brains, impairs their learning, reduces their IQs, and can cause behavioral problems.
Along with millions of other parents and grandparents across the country, I am outraged that lead still is in wide use, especially in products designed for children. This is absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable.
There has recently been what seems like an endless stream of recalls of kids' toys, jewelry, and other products containing toxic lead levels. This includes over 1.5 million Mattel toys contaminated with lead paint.
These Mattel recalls included Sesame Street and Nickelodeon characters such as the Elmo Tub Sub, the Dora the Explorer Backpack, and the Giggle Gabber, a toy shaped like Elmo or Cookie Monster, and many Barbie accessories.
We invited Mattel to testify at this hearing to explain why their products have been lead-contaminated and what they are doing about the problem. Mattel accepted the invitation, but then they backed out earlier this week. We intend to follow-up with the company on their failure to participate in this hearing. It is important for companies like Mattel to be part of the discussion about what has caused this problem, and about the steps necessary to address the issue the future. There is no excuse for their failure to appear before this Committee today.
Lead contamination of children's products can have extremely serious consequences. In 2006, a four year old child in Minnesota swallowed a heart-shaped metal charm from a bracelet that came with Reebok sneakers. Tests showed his blood-lead level was three times the level that's considered a medical emergency. The child died six days later.
300,000 of these Reebok charms were recalled. One of these charms is on the table in front of us.
In 2003, a four year old in Oregon got violently ill, and an x-ray showed that he had swallowed a vending machine medallion. He had surgery to remove the object, which was 39 percent lead. His blood lead level was 12 times the CDC lead safety level. His life was saved by a chelation, a painful treatment that uses chemicals to take the lead out of the body.
In 2004, a five year old child in San Jose, California was tested for lead at the suggestion of her school. Her blood level levels were nearly three times higher than the CDC risk level. Charms that she put into her mouth were found to contain lead.
These are but a few examples of the kinds of children's products contaminated with lead. Among the other recent recalls are:
· 35,000 Baby Einstein blocks contaminated with lead paint. How ironic that the very blocks that should be helping babies learn, were actually contaminated with a brain toxin that could lower kids' IQs.
· Thousands of bibs, which babies often put in their mouths, that contained high lead levels. These bibs were recalled by Walmart after an investigation by Illinois authorities.
· Lunchboxes, distributed by health officials in California and labeled "Eat 5 a Day for Better Health," that were contaminated with excess lead.
· Over 1.5 million Thomas & Friends Railway toys with lead paint.
In all, there have been over 60 recalls of over 9.5 million lead-contaminated products in 2007. And this clearly is just the tip of the iceberg. With more testing come more recalls.
But these lead toys and kids' products are not the only source of lead in kids' blood. Some of the other most significant sources of lead exposure for children include deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, lead-contaminated residential soil, lead in drinking water, and lead in food-contact surfaces such as certain dishware and pottery.
Parents are stunned, confused, and terribly worried. And the government simply has not done one of its most important jobs-protecting children from harm.
The failure of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect the public from kids' toy threats has received widespread publicity recently. I want to focus attention on EPA's failure to use its powers to help protect our children from lead in children's products, and how EPA's authorities can be strengthened.
We will hear from a witness later today that EPA explicitly denied a petition to use the agency's authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to address many of these risks. Only after a lawsuit from the Sierra Club and Improving Kids' Environment did EPA begin to act.
If EPA had taken action in response to the April 17, 2006, TSCA petition, the agency could at least have had very useful information on quality control and other procedures at companies such as Mattel, before the massive toy recalls revealed this serious problem to millions of Americans.
EPA's failure to act on this petition and use its Toxic Substances Control Act authorities to crack down on lead is similar to its failure to adopt strong guidelines for lead paint remediation. It also reminds me of the agency's recent announcement that EPA is considering the possibility of revoking the standard for lead in air. EPA clearly needs to take lead contamination far more seriously.
The good news is that when EPA and government agencies are doing their jobs, they can reduce children's lead poisoning risks. From the late 1970's through the 1990's, EPA and other agencies took several actions including phasing out lead in gasoline and banning lead paint. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of kids CDC considers lead-poisoned dropped from 13.5 million in 1978 to 310,000 children in 2002. So when agencies put their minds to it, and have the will, we can make a big difference.
But we still have a lot of work to do. According to a Work Group of independent scientists convened by the CDC in 2004, recent data show that there are adverse effects on children from lead at blood lead levels below the current CDC level of concern. The CDC agreed, but decided not to reduce the level because of their concerns about the difficulty of implementing a lower number. I think that decision needs to be reconsidered, in order to better protect our children in light of all the new data.
It is time for our government to put as high a priority on lead-poisoned children as parents do. I intend to introduce legislation to force EPA to eliminate lead in products that children use. And I plan to carefully and vigorously oversee EPA's implementation of its other lead authorities.
It is our moral obligation to protect our children from this devastating poison. And I intend to do my best to make sure that EPA and other agencies do their part to help assure that our kids are safe.