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Lead in Power Cords February 22, 2006 8:00 AM

(taken from Debra's List)

Dear Debra ~

I just purchased a new laptop computer, made by Toshiba. In the "Resource Guide", on both the first page and on page 29, it says

"WARNING: Handling the (power) cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. WASH HANDS AFTER HANDLING".

I don't want to consider returning it because it has good quality speakers through which I, hard-of-hearing, may be able to hear. (I am housebound so didn't personally go to stores to look at computers before ordering this. Also, I already have high levels of arsenic and cadmium according to my hair analysis, so I don't need to add lead.)

Even if I could find a different cord or chose a different computer, how would I know whether or not the new cord cord contains lead? Is the lead mixed somehow combined with something in such a way that it is not readily dispersed? Why would there be lead in a plastic cord?

I suppose I could wrap it with duct tape. I can wear gloves when I handle it, but do I want this cord sitting on my desk 2 !/2 feet from my nose?

Toshiba's corporate office seems to be in California, so maybe notifying customers was simply a legal requirement.

What can I do to protect myself from this exposure to lead?

M. M.
La Mesa CA

P.S. I just went to Consumer Reports.org to see if I could find a way to complain about the power cord on my Toshiba, as they had recommended the brand. I found an article on Christmas tree lights (and one on garden hoses) that indicated that lead is used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride which is used in manufacturing electrical cords. And while occasional use would not harm most adults, you should wash your hands after handling. (Another reason to avoid using PVC.)

This doesn't tell me whether there is a potential for airborne lead dust, but it looks pretty unlikely that I would find something better.

First, I just want to remind everyone that there is NO safe level for lead, except "none." Zero.

I don't think there is a danger from airborne lead dust, but I don't know for sure. Lead is a heavy metal--a particle not a vapor, so it is unlikely that it would be released into the air from plastic (but I don't know everything!). Lead is considered to not be dangerous in paint on a wall, for example, as long as it is on the wall. But when the paint begins to peel or it is sanded or otherwise disturbed, then lead dust is released.

My husband and I discussed this and came up with two solutions. One is to wrap the cord with some other material. He said not electrical tape because it is made from PVC too. He didn't like this idea because he thought the tape wouldn't be flexible enough. My idea was to wrap the cord with strips of cotton cloth. I actually have a cord on a lamp that I had clamped to a shelf a few years ago. It had a black cord I didn't like. So I had wrapped it with purple wire-reinforced ribbon and that worked just fine.

My husband preferred wearing gloves when handling the cords, but I think that is impractical.

But first, I would recommend that you test the cord to see if it actually has lead in it. There is a movement toward phasing out lead in PVC, but there is still lead in most cords. One survey found lead in 23 out of 27 cords tested. After handling the cords for only 10 seconds, fingers also tested positive for lead. To test for the presence of lead on your cables, use Lead Check swabs.

More about the warning label from Harvard University.

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