Lead Found In Lunchboxes

screen grab of lunch box consumer alert story

When 5-year-old Henry Smith sat down for his lunch at Berkeley's Monteverdi pre-school his mom was certain he was getting a healthy meal until she did a home test and found his Spiderman lunch box had lead in it, CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes reports.

"I was angry and a little bit scared," Henry's mom Carolyn Rasby says. "His wonderful organic fruit was going in there. I put the fruit directly in here to avoid more packaging."

Julie Silas' daughter Ariana is Henry's classmate.

"I can't believe there might be lead in my kid's lunch box. After all we know about lead, why is that still being part of our products sold in the U.S.?" Silas asks.

The two moms found out about potential lead in children's soft vinyl lunch boxes after a local group called the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) did independent testing on the popular new lunch totes with faces of super heroes and pretty princesses. The group says two in 10 turned up positive for lead.

The Angela Anaconda lunch box has 90 times the federal limit for lead in painting on toys. "This one's the highest one," Micheal Green, CEH's executive director says.

What can concerned parents do? Home lead testing kits cost about $8 and are pretty easy to use. Crack it open, swab the lunch box. Pink means lead. If no color appears, no lead is present, Hughes explains.

The home testing kits flew off shelves at the nearby hardware store. But, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency that regulates lead, says the home tests can be unreliable. It recently did its own testing of vinyl lunch boxes. They would not reveal how many lunch boxes they tested, but admit they did find levels of lead in some.

"We found consistently less than one microgram of accessible lead in these vinyl lunch boxes. That is not a toxic level and it is a low level," safety commission spokeswoman Patti Davis says.

The Center for Environmental Health counters that when it comes to children "no" amount of lead should be in a child's lunchbox.

"What will happen is lead will be added to all the other lead that they're exposed to," Green says. "And because it causes brain damage and varying disabilities this is an exposure that can be stopped easily."

At this point, a cautious parent might just want to brown bag it, Hughes concludes.