Caitlin Krohn sticks her hands between the window miniblinds to look outside.
She’s like any other curious 21/2-year-old child, a monkey who puts puppy stickers on windows in the car and in the living room.
Her mother worried Tuesday that Caitlin could be ingesting lead dust the government now says coats some vinyl miniblinds.
“She does play in them,” said Julie Krohn, who lives on the South Hill. “She goes and moves them out of the way. We’ve always been more concerned about the cords.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Monday that non-glossy, vinyl miniblinds pose a lead poisoning hazard.
Parents with children 6 and under were advised to remove the blinds. Even parents with older children should take down the blinds, said Michael LaScuola, chemical and physical hazards adviser with the Spokane County Health District.
“It’s the same old lead story, it’s just a different source,” LaScuola said. “It’s definitely worthy of attention. What it can do to you is fairly insidious. You don’t want anything that makes you dumb.”
The dangers of lead have been known for decades. Health officials periodically warn consumers of various products containing lead.
The threat poised by leaded gas and leaded paint has been known for years. Japanese-made green dishes with green berries popped up in 1968. Then Ronald McDonald “Glasses to Go” in 1977. Christmas wrapping paper in 1978. Refrigerated water coolers in 1987. Tainted tequila in 1988. Crayons in 1994.
Inhaling or swallowing small amounts of lead can cause long-term brain damage, learning disabilities and behavior problems. Chronic poisoning can damage red blood cells, kidneys and the central nervous system.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February indicated that exposure to lead may contribute significantly to criminal behavior.
The miniblind warning rippled across the region Tuesday. The Spokane County Health District fielded dozens of calls from concerned parents. A Panhandle Health District environmental health specialist decided to test his vinyl blinds before installing them. Stores practiced damage control.
Fairchild Air Force Base specialists began taking samples from blinds in base housing and sending them to a lab for tests. If lead levels are high, the base may resume its lead-testing program, which ended a few months ago because 99 percent of the children tested negative for the metal.
Parents called pediatricians and hospitals to ask if they should have their children tested.
“It’s been kind of a brush fire here today with this,” said LaScuola of the Spokane County Health District.
He’s working with a government warning that’s vague. No companies are mentioned, just blinds with lead added to stabilize and harden the plastic. About 25 million such blinds are imported every year from Taiwan, China, Mexico and Indonesia.
The government commission found the plastic deteriorates when exposed to sunlight and heat, forming lead dust on the blind’s surface. Children ingest the lead by wiping their hands on the blinds and sticking their hands in their mouths.
Jerry Cobb, who supervises the Panhandle Health District’s lead-monitoring program in the Silver Valley, said consumers have to be careful when buying products not regulated by American standards.
“A lot of these countries continue to use products that we haven’t used for years,” Cobb said. “It’s just kind of buyer beware. Don’t assume anything.”
Most retailers in the region were cagey about discussing miniblinds Tuesday. Chain stores carrying the blinds referred calls to corporate offices. Home Base set up a miniblind hotline in its Irvine, Calif., office.
Kmart announced it will stock new lead-free blinds in September. Mervyn’s lead-free blinds will be available in 30 to 60 days. Both companies are offering refunds for recent purchases.
That’s small comfort to Julie Krohn. She bought her Taiwan-made blinds about three years ago from Mervyn’s.
Krohn wants her daughter to be tested.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “I wanted to take her in for one, and my doctor said he doesn’t think it’s necessary. Well, I do. It’s not something you want to risk.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Home health tips Tips to avoid lead poisoning at home: Dust and vacuum frequently. Avoid lead-tainted paint: Make sure the home’s interior has been painted since 1980; keep children away from soil near the home, where peeling paint chips can build up. Run faucets in old homes for several minutes before drinking if the water’s been standing more than six hours. Watch hobbies: Be careful casting bullets, making stained-glass windows and firing guns in indoor shooting ranges.