THE BLOG
02/21/2007 09:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Real Pandora's Box

How our government wants to wipe away the bad news about unsafe levels of lead in children's lunch boxes.

Today's news should make every parent angry or angrier at the thought that wax paper, aluminum foil, and baggies are not impervious to what many scientists claim are "cumulative and dangerous levels of exposure to lead."

Last week, we were dumbfounded to learn the "ghoulish" ways Anna Nicole Smith's team gathered to defend the moral rights of her remains. Cotton swabs were used to get a sample of DNA from inside her mouth. Their motive? To confirm that she is the actual mother. The multitude of swipes in search of the father's DNA will be matched with hers and Daniylynn's to determine if together they represent what scientists describe as a complete triage or family.

Nicole is indeed dead and awaiting burial. Still, whatever traces of life that can be reconstituted from a cellular snatch of material found inside her cheek, will not only serve as evidence but will not help to protect her child, at school age, from lunch boxes that contain lead.

As evidence proves that exposure to lead can be toxic, it's a stretch of someone's imagination to understand why children should be "the" guinea pigs. Exposure leads to a deficit of irreversible damages, lower IQ, higher costs in healthcare and an impact which imprints a major calculable loss to the GNP as young and even younger minds become the target of a neurotoxic substance that eats brain cells for lunch and for good.

Government scientists however, decided it wasn't worth bothering the public about this issue. Assuming that they already had too much on their minds having to weigh choices like, should we substitute potatoes chips for celery sticks. Give me a break!

In 2005, they tested 60 soft vinyl lunch boxes and found one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts considered unsafe- and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.

No one informed the public. Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that claimed, "no instances of hazardous levels." They refused to release the actual test results, citing regulations that protected manufacturers from having to release their information to the public.

Then in 2006, The Associated Press received a box that contained 1,500 pages of lab reports, e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act.

Two tests were conducted. One involved cutting a piece of vinyl off the bag, dissolving it, and then analyzing how much lead was leached into the solution; the second test, involved swiping the surface of a bag and then deciphering how much lead rubbed off.

The results of the first type of test, looking for the actual lead content of the vinyl, showed that 20 percent of the bags had more than 600 parts per million of lead _ the federal safe level for paint and other products. The highest level was 9,600 ppm, more than 16 times the federal standard

But the CPSC claimed, "When it comes to a lunch box, it's carried. The food that you put in the lunch box may have an outer wrapping, a baggie, so there isn't direct exposure."

This is a case of not what's not in the baggie but what's in the box. A spokesperson for the CPSC claims, "The direct exposure would be if kids were putting their lunch boxes in their mouth, which isn't a common way for children to interact," said Julie Vallese.

Kids don't normally mouth their lunch boxes but if they do here's what will happen.

According to the lab workers report in which they conducted several "swipe tests," the results for lead were lower, especially after the researchers changed their protocol. They kept swiping away and again, in the very same spot, resulted in lower than average results.

Thus the CPSC focused exclusively on how much lead came off the surface of a lunch box when lab workers swiped them.

For the swipe tests, the results were lower, especially after the researchers changed their testing protocol. After a handful of tests, they increased the number of times they swiped each bag, again on the same spot, which resulted in lower average results. Another spokesman from the CPSC's chemistry division drew a "no brainer" conclusion when he stated, "This shows that the overall risk is lower than our original testing would have showed, as the amount of lead dislodgeable is mostly taken out with the first wipe and goes down with subsequent wipes."

Spokeswoman Vallese went on to say, "The more you wipe, the less lead you actually find. With fewer wipes we got a higher detection of lead presence. We thought more wipes was closer to reflecting how you would interact with your lunch box. It was more realistic."

I don't know how many swipes its going take to get lead out of our kids lunchboxes but you can count on the fact that industry and it's paid scientists know how to make a really bad peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And if it's not in the baggie and in the box, I guess it's safe to eat.