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A healthy choice: Check for toxins in your home

In a matter of seconds, the X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy scanner can identify if an item contains arsenic, bromine, cadmium, chlorine, lead, and mercury, and at what levels. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Toxins have a bad way of showing up in places we don't expect, like toys for children.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was able to convince Congress to place restrictions on lead in children's toys after 4-year-old Jarnell Brown of Minnesota swallowed a heart-shaped pendant and died Feb. 22, 2006, of lead poisoning.

Heartland Community Action Agency is hoping to persuade parents to take a look at what items may hold toxins in their homes, and make the healthy choice of removing them from their children's lives.

Heartland's Healthy Foundations Project is offering a free toxin-monitoring event from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday in the Kandi Mall shopping center in Willmar.

Parents are welcome to bring up to two items to be tested for toxins by an X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy scanner. In a matter of seconds, it will reveal whether everyday items such as toys, dinnerware, trinkets, coffee mugs or plastic toys for the bathtub contain toxins.

The scanner can detect whether the items hold arsenic, bromide, cadmium, chlorine, lead or mercury, and at what levels.

"You absolutely cannot tell unless you do something like this,'' said Julie Jansen, coordinator of the Healthy Foundations program for Heartland Community Action Agency.

While the much publicized case of Jarnell Brown's death brought some regulatory action, there remain many products in our homes with toxins in them, said Jansen.

One of the biggest concerns is the unknown effects that may result from long-term exposure to low levels of toxins. Lead can lower IQ. Mercury can cause nerve damage. Arsenic is a known carcinogen.

Jansen is particularly concerned about those items that can find their ways to the mouths of children, where moisture and warmth can release the toxins. Until regulations were implemented, the popular rubber ducks that many children play with in the bathtub were made with phthalates, a plasticizer. They are also endocrine disrupters, and there is a growing body of research raising concerns about exposing young bodies to them.

Jansen said she was surprised to find some of her own household items did not pass the scanner test. She found plastic containers meant for holding leftover foods with high levels of arsenic. Cute, teddy bear dinnerware once used by her children was made with lead. A toy car literally taken from the mouth of a babe contained mercury.

When she took the scanner to the public health office, she went home with a box full of coffee mugs. Workers quickly surrendered their mugs when the scanner revealed high levels of lead, she said.

At a toxin-monitoring event in Minneapolis, one woman brought in a window pane coated in lead-based paint. She had been sanding it in her child's room to re-paint it.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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