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California: The Leader in Lead Regulation

Posted on Aug 26, 2010 | Comments (1)
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Lead girl
In the sixth story of our ongoing series, "Independence from Toxic Chemicals," Ryan Berghoff and Christina Medina describe the history of lead regulation in California

Lead is one of the most infamous and ubiquitous toxic heavy metals--it was even honored with  the prestigious “Toxie” award for Lifetime Achievement in Harm. It has been linked to infertility in women, increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, as well as neurological and developmental problems in children.  Take a look at our post on California’s Prop 65 to see some of the unexpected places we’ve found lead. Who’d ever think that diaper rash cream, lunch boxes and electronic cords could have so much in common!

Lead is listed by the EPA and other federal and state agencies for its toxic properties, prompting federal lead legislation since the 1970’s. The Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 1971 was the first law regulating lead, which restricted the lead content in paint used in housing built with federal dollars and provided funds for states to reduce the amount of lead in paint. Subsequent federal legislation created the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which effectively banned leaded paint in 1976. In 1990, amendments to the Clean Air Act banned lead in gasoline, decreasing the amount of lead exposed to the body from automobile pollution.

However, despite the federal regulation that has banned lead in paint and gasoline, lead still poses some of the greatest risks to developing children and pregnant women.

There are no “safe” levels of lead found in children's blood, and the battle against lead must continue to thrive in order to make California a healthier state.

That is why California has made serious progress when it comes to laws that get this toxic chemical out of the hands and mouths of folks in the Golden State. Here’s a summary of California lead legislation:

1. Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program

In 1986, the California state legislature declared childhood lead exposure as the most significant childhood environmental health problem in the state. They took action by establishing the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and instructed it to continue to take steps necessary to reduce the incidence of childhood lead exposure in California.  It’s a whole branch within the CA Department of Public Health!

2. Assembly Bill 1953

Furthermore, Wilma Chan help passed Assembly Bill 1953 which strengthened the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. Previously under the Health and Safety Code “lead free” allowed 8 percent lead in pipes or pipe fittings, and four percent lead for plumbing fittings and fixtures. However, this bill reduced the average amount of lead allowed in each component to no more than 0.25 percent.

3. Lead in Jewelry

The California Lead-Containing Jewelry Law demands that jewelry sold, shipped or manufactured for sale in California must not contain more than the legal limit of lead. This law codifies a settlement from the Attorney General and CHANGE member Center for Environmental Health resulting from a 2006 Proposition 65 lawsuit regarding lead in jewelry.

4. Lead in Wheel Weights

The latest law banning lead is the 2009 California Lead in Wheel Weights ban. Estimates show that 500,000 pounds of lead is released into California's environment annually from wheel weights that fall off of vehicles. CHANGE members helped make the passing of this legislation possible, which is important because we already knew that there were very safe and simple alternatives readily available for wheel weights- zinc or steel.

5. Prop 65

In 1986, California voters passed a ground-breaking right-to-know law that requires manufacturers, retailers and other businesses to provide notice to Californians when they are being exposed to toxic chemicals. As a result of this law, organizations like the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) have been helping parents answer questions concerning the safety of their children’s products by testing for lead. They have found dangerous amounts of lead in baby bibs, diaper rash ointment, lunchboxes, jewelry, candy wrappers, dishware, wheel weights, astro turf, and handbags and purses. Most recently, CEH made a landmark agreement with four major retail companies to end lead threats to women from purses, handbags, clutches and wallets, forcing the companies to recall their tainted products and ensure that no future products will pose the same threats. 

California has been a leader when it comes to chemical reform policy, as can be seen by the increasing regulations concerning lead in everyday products. However, the laws need to go further in order to protect citizens from harmful toxins, which is why it is crucial that California’s Green Chemistry Initiative is strong enough in implementing the regulations that help keep this state safe. California continues to lead the way, and with the help of CHANGE members and our supporters we hope to impose newer and stronger regulations making our community a safer place to live.

Ryan Berghoff is a recent graduate from the Society and Environment program at the University of California Berkeley and is an intern at the Center for Environmental Health, and Christina Medina is the Program Assistant at CHANGE where she keeps the CHANGE green machine well-oiled and running.


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If you would like to follow what is happening with Prop. 65, check out Prop. 65 Clearinghouse's website http://www.prop65clearinghouse.com/. We report on all aspects of the law, from litigation to regulatory proposals.