Schools Remove Toys, Headphones as Lead Hazard

April 14, 2004
All principals of the Montgomery County Public Schools have been directed to search their schools and remove from classrooms any small plastic or vinyl animal and pretend food toys, as well as a certain model of old headphones, as a precaution following a health department investigation into possible lead contamination.

The investigation began last month following a routine medical assessment of a child in the Head Start program at South Lake Elementary School in Gaithersburg. The child was found to have been exposed to lead primarily at home. However, because of the child’s habit of mouthing and chewing toys, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services also initiated an environmental assessment of the child’s classroom and discovered the presence of some lead when testing certain toys and headphones in the classroom.

Yesterday, at the health department’s request, the school system directed all principals to remove by the end of this week any of the suspected toys and headphones from their classrooms. The precautionary effort includes all elementary and secondary schools with pre-kindergarten, Head Start, kindergarten, special education, and child development programs.

The suspect items include:

* A specific model of headphones, identified as “Califone model #2917,” that is used in language and reading instruction in classroom listening centers.

* Small colorful animals and pretend food that are used as classroom instructional tools for language, mathematics, and social skills. The toys are from one to eight inches in length and include pretend fruits, vegetables, and cooked food and a variety of zoo animals.

The initial investigation focused on older toys probably purchased in the late 1980s. However, because it is difficult to distinguish between old and new toys of similar design (other than worn appearances), all plastic and vinyl animal toys and pretend food toys are being collected. The specific model of headphones is an older design that is no longer made.

The discovery of lead on the toys and headphones prompted the closure of the Head Start classroom at South Lake Elementary School until a second environmental assessment was completed by an independent contractor. The assessment found no elevated levels of lead anywhere except on the surface of the headphones and the toys.

This week, the health department will provide free blood screening for potential elevated levels of lead for all of the students in that particular Head Start class. No other screening has been recommended at this time by the health department for other students at the school or elsewhere in the school system.

The removal of the items from classrooms involves placing the toys and headphones in separate plastic bags, sealing the bags, and attaching a “chain of custody record” from the health department. The custody record is intended for future reference to identify where the items were found and who had possession of them if the health department conducts further analysis for lead content. School staff members were advised to wash their hands between handling the headphones or toys to reduce the potential for cross-contamination of the items.

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