Chemistry Professor Uncovers Toxic Lead Paint in Plastic Easter Eggs

A chemistry professor who raised an earlier warning flag about toxic lead levels in toy jewelry didn't have to look far for evidence of similar risks in Easter items such as plastic eggs.

Thirteen of 45 items purchased off store shelves and tested by Ashland University chemistry students had paint made with lead, according to Jeffrey D. Weidenhamer, who has made the toy testing an annual spring rite for his students.

Lead, a highly toxic element, can cause severe nerve damage, especially in children.

Two years ago Weidenhamer and his students produced a low-profile study showing many common toys and trinkets, most made in China, had hazardous lead levels. The next round of testing last year got more attention as the issue of tainted Chinese products including toys, pet food and toothpaste made the headlines.

"It certainly demonstrates that the problem is still there," Weidenhamer said. "2007 was called by many people the 'year of the recall' and 2008 that stuff is still on the shelf."

Lee Ellis, 40, of Cleveland, who sometimes shops for toys for his niece and two nephews, said he is aware of the lead risk when buying. "I was about to buy my niece a doll. If it's from China, I won't buy it," he said.

Ellis said the leak risk stems from the drive to hain didn't respond immediately to e-mail and phone message requests Monday for comment on how safety concerns are handled and the record of its supplier.

Weidenhamer said the toys with lead-based paint would pose only a small risk if the paint doesn't chip and the item is discarded before it deteriorates. Still, the risk "is not negligible because of the high toxicity of lead," he said.

The biggest lead risk to children comes from homes, usually older ones which have lead paint that can chip and get ingested, Weidenhamer said.

About 310,000 U.S. children ages 1 to 5, or less than 2 percent of that population, have blood lead levels that require treatment or other measures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most get it from paint chips and dust in old buildings.