Lead-free for Christmas

November 30, 2007

Christmas means toys but if you are not careful it could also mean poison. The health dangers of lead are well known, and can cause blood and nervous system disorders, and even lead to death in extreme overdose cases. Children are particularly vulnerable, and although the recommended international safety limit is 0.06%, (the UK limit is 0.1%), experts believe that even such low levels can affect children’s intellectual development.

Dr Gill Lewendon, acting director of public health for North and East Cornwall Primary Care Trust, has carried out research looking at the effect of lead on children and she has said, ” research suggests there’s actually no safe level of lead in the blood.” Although she is conscious of the success achieved in reducing lead levels by introducing lead-free petrol and taking lead out of paint the reality is that some items do slip through. Children’s toys often find their way into their mouths so there has been a highly effective campaign that has made using lead based paint in children’s toys virtually unknown in the UK. However, imports are a different matter and China in particular does not have a good track record in this instance. Although there is legislation covering toys imported here, there is nothing covering children’s jewellery and high levels of lead have previously been found in such items. Shopping for Christmas, be aware of this and check the point of origin of anything you are buying.

Also, if you are planning on buying yourself a new computer this Christmas the good news is that the Intel Corp. has announced plans to stop using lead as a soldering agent in its microprocessors. Lead is particularly useful as a semiconductor, due to its specific electrical and mechanical properties. Intel began phasing out the use of lead in its products in 2002, with the introduction of a tin-silver-copper soldering alloy. This alloy had replaced lead as a soldering agent in nearly all Intel chip sets and processors by 2004, with the exception of 0.02 grams of lead that continued to be used inside each chip. This small amount will now be eliminated entirely by using a tin-silver-copper alloy, beginning with the Penryn line of processors. The company plans to have its microprocessors be lead-free by the end of this year, and to phase out lead in its 65-nanometer-process chips in 2008.


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