Press Releases

FDA Urges Producers to Stop Making Lead-Tainted Vinyl Lunchboxes

warns manufacturers that vinyl lunchboxes may leach lead into food,
health risks to children

Oakland, CA – The
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notified makers of soft vinyl (PVC)
lunchboxes yesterday that they should stop marketing vinyl lunchboxes that may
leach lead into foods. FDA’s letter to manufacturers states that any lead on the
surface of a lunchbox lining can be expected to contaminate food and would
therefore be a prohibited food additive. Last year, the Center for Environmental
Health (CEH) brought national attention to the issue of lead-tainted children’s
lunchboxes when the nonprofit sued makers and retailers of vinyl lunchboxes for
violating California law.

FDA’s notice is the
first federal action to stop the sale of lead-tainted lunchboxes. “We applaud
FDA for taking this decisive action to protect children’s health,” said
Michael Green, Executive Director of
CEH. “It is past time for strong government action to insure our kids are safe
from lead at lunchtime.” An email from FDA Consumer Safety Officer Kenneth
McAdams to CEH investigative staff stated, “[T]hank you and CEH again for your
work on this that first alerted us to the issue, and the help you provided us.”

FDA’s letter to
lunchbox makers states that the agency’s position is based on lunchbox testing
performed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But CPSC has refused
to take action to prevent lead poisoning risks from lunchboxes, and stated after
conducting “preliminary” tests that lead from lunchboxes would not pose health
risks. In contrast, FDA’s notice clearly warns lunchbox makers of lead-poisoning
risks, stating that since

migration of lead [from lunchbox interiors] to food…may be reasonably expected,
we urge companies to refrain from marketing such lead-containing
lunchboxes….it has been a longstanding objective of the FDA to reduce, to the
extent possible, consumer exposure to lead from foods. The adverse health
effects of elevated lead levels in children are well-documented and may have
long-lasting or permanent consequences.

Recently, many
lunchboxes found in stores by CEH include labels suggesting that the products
are “lead safe,” or “lead free.” But there is often no explanation of what
testing companies did to determine the amount or availability of lead from the
lunchbox. For example, CEH purchased Thermos-brand lunchboxes at Target labeled
“Tested Lead Safe.” When CEH called Thermos for information, a company
representative could not describe the testing method, and instead referred CEH
to a June 1 company press release stating that CPSC has found that lead in
lunchboxes “would not present a health hazard to children.” Another lunchbox
purchased at Wal-Mart is labeled as “Tested Lead Safe,” and contains a tag
stating that “Representative samples of this product have been tested for lead
according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission…and found to comply
with their guidelines.”

In response, CEH has
issued a renewed caution:  “Parents should take notice that a “lead safe” label
on a lunchbox may not provide adequate assurance, if companies are using CPSC’s outdated standard,” said Green. “We urge retailers to
be vigilant in informing suppliers that lunchboxes are not safe if they contain
any lead that can contaminate food.”

A CEH investigation
begun in 2005 has found lead in dozens of children’s lunchboxes bought at major
retailers, including Target, WalMart, JC Penny’s, Toys
“R” Us and Walgreens. But the retailers were slow to respond, and CEH’s announcement of lead in lunchboxes prompted hundreds
of parents from across the country to mail lead-positive lunchboxes purchased at
these and other stores to CEH headquarters in Oakland, California. Lunchboxes
featuring Superman, Tweety Bird, Powerpuff Girls, and other familiar characters were found
with high lead levels.

For more information
about CEH’s investigation, including photos of
lunchboxes and of “lead safe” notices on lunchboxes, please click here.