I recently had the semi-pleasure of visiting the “happiest place on earth,” otherwise known as Disneyland, California. Disneyland loomed large for me as a kid growing up in Southern California, and I was cautiously eager to share the novelty of the experience with my own child. What I found was a theme park, in some respects very much as I remembered it, but in other respects more of an appalling spectacle of consumer indoctrination than I could have remembered. Gone was the small town simulacrum, as well as the itinerant, oversized Disney characters willing to pose for a photo at a moments notice, and gone were the ragged teenagers tripping on hallucinogens, hoping to regain some of their lost childhood. In their place were all manner of corporate sponsorship, compulsory purchases, and a general level of consumer hysteria once limited to after Thanksgiving sales. While I wouldn’t call the Disneyland environment toxic, I did find much of it objectionable, but still managed to have a reasonably good time.
Well according to the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation, who has been visiting Disneyland more often and more frequently than I care to imagine, the ever-popular theme park is in fact toxic with high levels of lead. From the stained glass Pinocchio windows to the brass doorknobs at Minnie’s House, the place is evidently teeming with excessive levels of lead, according to the environmental group. The group is now seeking a court injunction to require Disneyland to dutifully cover the offending items (which also include several water fountains) or post health warnings. The group conducted multiple surreptitious “wipe testings” in various locations in the park, using a laboratory version of a moist towelette to gather readings and data on lead concentrations that are easily picked up with the swipe of a hand. What they found was alarming enough to take it to the courts.
According to a report in The Los Angeles Times:
“A wipe sample taken from a stained-glass Pinocchio window in the dining area of Village Haus restaurant found a lead exposure of 350 micrograms, Mateel said. Under state law, warnings are required if exposure for average users exceeds 0.5 micrograms per day.”
Lead, as any concerned parent or citizen knows, attacks the nervous and reproductive systems, causes cognitive and behavioral changes and gives you a good chance of developing cancer (not to mention it is really bad for children). As predicted, Disneyland officials reject the charges and claim they are in full compliance with state laws regarding lead levels and signage alerting patrons of such levels.
Judging from the allegations, as well as the unyielding power of the defendant in this case, I don’t think we will be seeing Disneyland change their ways, or shut down on health code violations, anytime in the near future. But amazingly, despite a somewhat strictly enforced health code, lead seems to be everywhere and on everything – even in the happiest place on earth. On my visit, I distinctly remember seeing a little girl wrap her lips around a brass rail chain and chew it as if it were a piece of licorice. But I also saw children pick their noses, wipe them on their seats, and even saw a child vomiting behind a trashcan (not conveniently in the trashcan). Whether lead is a real and present danger is debatable, but you could be certain that germs, along with happiness, are plentiful in the “Magic Kingdom of Disneyland.”