Published: January 30, 2020
Is it really a problem?
Hey friends! So many of you have been asking me this question (or some variation of this question) over the past several days:
- ”Is it really a problem? Especially if a kid is not eating a book?”
- “Do we need to take this seriously?”
- “Or is it “only” a potential contributor to total aggregate Lead from various background sources in our lives?”
This is (an expanded version of) what I responded to one post comment:
There is a potential significant Lead dust hazard with old books, and that can include concerns for both the inhalation of and ingestion of Lead-containing micro-dust. Lead is not considered carcinogenic, but is a neurotoxin; in fact, Lead is one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man, and all public agencies agree that there is no “safe” level of Lead exposure for a child.
Many of the books I have tested, including books like Winnie the Pooh — especially hardcover books with painted decorations on the covers from the 1940s and 1950s and earlier — have been positive for 4,000 – 8,000 ppm Lead (or higher) in the worn painted covers when tested with an XRF instrument. Current standards require that all newly-manufactured items today that test above 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint or coating are to be considered illegal to be sold as an item “intended for use by children“.
Even books that may not present a total content hazard (because all of their XRF readings come in below 90 ppm Lead) may present a significant dust hazard. Dust hazards are looked at in a completely different way than content hazards in consumer goods. It takes just a microscopic amount of Lead (literally) in dust to poison a child.
Make no mistake about it: not only are Leaded inks used in the printing of most of these books, but these covers are often painted with actual LEAD-BASED PAINT, which all scientists agree creates Lead dust in one of the most dangerous forms for children. Lead paint dust can be a very significant hazard / significant exposure source of Lead for a child. This exposure concern is present even if young children are using these old books “normally” / “as intended” [they don’t need to be chewing on them them to potentially be exposed]. Here’s a post about how toxic Lead micro-dust can be.
Of course, as I understand it, not a single scientific body has done any sort of study attempting to evaluate and quantify the Lead dust hazard created by vintage books. Why? The answer to this “why?” is always the same: because there is no person (nor any industry) who perceives that any potential direct financial benefit would come from doing such a study, so no one has been willing to fund such as study. [If I am wrong about this and you know of a study that quantifies lead dust hazards in vintage books, please do let me know by commenting on this post!]
As a result I have decided to undertake some independent dust wipe sample testing on a few old books that I have here in the collection for my “Museum of Lead”. I will be doing a video showing the dust wipe sample collection procedure on some of the old books, and then will be sending those dust wipe samples to a testing lab to see if the dust hazard can be quantified in some way as a correlative concern to certain total content levels (using XRF technology.) I will report the results on my blog and in a follow up video as well… so stand by!
Here are the direct links for the posts that initiated these inquiries:
As always, thank you for reading! Stay tuned for the dust wipe sampling test results — and please let me know if you have any questions!