Window blinds help thousands of Australian families keep their homes cool, and buyers can now choose from many types and styles. When choosing the right window blinds, most people would focus on colour, style and cost, but safety is also an important consideration. Safety standards in modern blinds are unquestionably high, but if you live in an older property, your window coverings could pose an unexpected hazard. Learn more about the risk of lead exposure in older window blinds, and find out what you need to do if you think your existing window coverings are dangerous.
The dangers of lead exposure
Lead is a heavy element that occurs naturally all over the world. While it can occur naturally as a metal, most manufacturers use lead as part of a compound, mixed with other materials. Lead is corrosion-resistant, and is easy to meld and shape. Combined with other materials, you were once quite likely to come across lead in pipes, batteries, cable covers, paints and caulk.
Scientists have now determined that lead is harmful to human health. Exposure through ingestion or inhalation allows the body to absorb the material, where it can affect the nervous system. Lead exposure can cause problems with blood pressure, anemia, and may cause miscarriage in pregnant women. Children are at particularly high risk of lead poisoning. High levels of the material can damage the brain and kidneys, and children can even die from excessive lead exposure.
Window blinds and lead poisoning
As part of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week in the United States, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) highlighted several less obvious sources of lead that can cause poisoning in children. The CDC estimates that 30 percent of childhood lead poisoning comes from these sources, which include imported candles, ceramics, toys – and vinyl blinds.
The problem of lead in vinyl miniblinds first came to light in 1996, when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned consumers that the lead content in imported miniblinds could present a health hazard. In the United States, the CPSC estimated that American homeowners imported over 25 million sets of these blinds every year, and Australian buyers also imported these cheap products.
The problem of lead exposure from these miniblinds develops over time. The plastic in the blinds slowly deteriorates in sunlight, forming lead dust on the surfaces. The lead content in this dust is enough to cause harm, and children are particularly susceptible. Young children are more likely to run their fingers along the blinds. With dust on their fingers, children are also prone to put their hands in their mouths, swallowing the dust. The CPSC found that the lead content in the dust from some blinds could hit dangerous levels after touching just one square inch of the blind for a month.
Steps parents should take
If you live in an older home with young children, it's advisable to get rid of any miniblinds that may contain lead. Cleaning the blinds isn't enough. You will get rid of the dust, but more deposits will form over time.
However, remember to take care when removing the blinds. Clean the blinds carefully first to remove any dust, or you may leave traces of lead dust on the sill and floor, where children can access it. Then, place the cleaned blinds in a trash bag, and fasten the bag securely before dumping the bag in your refuse bin.
Window blinds help you shut out the Australian sun, but it's important to choose products that don't contain dangerous materials. Keep your family safe, and look for blinds that you know are lead-free.
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