Take a Look Inside the Silent Lead Crisis

Fast fashion may come with long-term consequences.

A recent viral tweet exposing lead found in clothing has prompted a renewed concern for lead poisoning across the country. It is an issue that ebbs and flows in the public consciousness, even when it is ever-present. Despite the United States banning the use of lead paint in residential homes in 1978, this toxic pollutant can still be found in homes across the country.

According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 29 million homes have “lead-based paint hazards including deteriorated paint and lead-contaminated house dust.” Over two million of those residences are homes for young children.

Lead is a threat that hides in plain sight: chipped paint in an old apartment, drinking water, and even clothing. So why aren't we talking about this?

Twenty Times the Acceptable Amount of Lead

Last year, the Canadian Broadcasting Company investigated high quantities of lead in children's clothes. Their sample pool consisted of 38 articles of clothing. They discovered that one in five pieces contained “elevated levels of chemicals — including lead.”

One of the clothing items was a child's jacket from SHEIN, a fast-fashion online shop based in China. This jacket “contained almost 20 times the amount of lead,” deemed acceptable, according to CBC's report.

And yet, nothing ever came of these findings.

Despite the legitimacy of the investigation into lead pollution, talk of lead faded into the background. That was until mid-August, when a concerned citizen took to Twitter to warn the public of the staggering data unearthed from CBC's study.

A Rallying Cry on Twitter

Atlanta-based beauty entrepreneur who goes by the handle @shinaamari called out SHEIN publicly when she tweeted, “SHEIN was found to have over 18x the allotted amount of lead in their clothing. Lead exposure can lead to mood disorders, reduced sperm count/abnormal sperm activity, & even miscarriage/stillbirth in pregnant women.”

The tweet already has 186,200 likes and has been retweeted 38,000 times.

SHEIN responded days later, reiterating its commitment to product safety. The company, recently valued at $100 billion, tweeted, “SHEIN's mission has always been to make trendy, affordable, quality, and safe products accessible to everyone.”

They asserted their compliance with the appropriate national regulations, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). SHEIN went on to say that their clothing meets all the requirements for “low lead risk.”

However, they have not responded directly to @shinaamari or any of the other vocal critics on social media.

In a tweet that has received nearly 5,000 likes, lingerie expert Cora Harrington tweeted, “America does not have good enough healthcare for y'all to choose lead poisoning from clothes.”

Although SHEIN has not committed to changing its practices, local governments are taking action. Three days after @shinaamari's tweet, the city of Syracuse announced they would begin enforcing their “lead abasement ordinance.” which was approved two years ago.

Stay Aware, Stay Prepared

While companies and government regulations may get lost in red tape, there are still certain steps you can take to stay vigilant in the face of a potential threat to lead poisoning. Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, the co-director of the National Capital Poison Center, discusses her take on this silent crisis.

“Lead exposure and lead poisoning can occur after people eat brightly pigmented spices like turmeric, which may be contaminated with lead,” Dr. Johnson-Arbor told us. She also encourages people to look for lead in imported or glazed cookware, costume jewelry (even items purchased in the U.S.), and at shooting ranges. “Lead has no known role in the human body, and it can be very dangerous for the developing brain, which is why young children are at heightened risk for lead poisoning,” she says.

In her role at the NSPC, no one day is exactly the same. “Since essentially anything can be poisonous — even water and air — we have to be prepared for everything, from a two-year-old who got into her grandmother's blood pressure medication to an 88-year-old who was given a double dose of her roommate's medication in a nursing home,” she told us.

With lead poisoning, symptoms can be challenging to identify, so she recommends visiting the CDC's website for resources on prevention and treatment. Since so many people might have lead poisoning without symptoms, knowing where lead might reside is crucial. “It's so important for people to recognize the potential sources of lead exposure and know how to discuss the risks with their doctor,” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor.

The short-term effects — irritability, memory loss, and pain or tingling in the hands and feet — aren't exclusive to lead poisoning. Prolonged exposure can put a person at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. Identifying the sources of lead contamination is just one step toward staving off the potential harm of this poison.

While social media may feel like a pointless playground of vitriol and contradiction, our virtual town halls sometimes function as rallying cries and warnings for a safer tomorrow. @shinaamari sparked a conversation with her warning on lead poisoning. Time will tell if people heed her caution.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.