Laurel Sharmer of the State University of New York, Anna Harding of Oregon State University in Corvallis and Steven Shackley of the University of California, Berkeley, say many items for sale in the United States -- including toys, jewelry, and home items -- contain surface lead concentrations more than 700 times higher than the federal limit.
The study, published in The Journal of Environmental Health, used X-ray fluorescence to test items quantitatively for lead content, and found 19 of 28 items purchased violated the federal standard for lead -- 600 parts per million. The amount of lead ranged from twice the federal limit in a metal ice cream scoop to 714 times the limit in a salt shaker lid.
Two salvaged construction items -- widely promoted in popular TV shows for home decorating -- had peeling and chalky paint that rubbed off on the hands of a researcher. One -- a white window frame -- had 4,747 parts per million of lead and the other -- a blue window shutter -- had 23,161 parts per million of lead.
"The sale of used items in the United States is not regulated by any federal agency and as a result, it is possible that Americans are bringing the lead poisoning hazards of past generations back into their homes," lead author Sharmer said in a statement. "It is very important for consumers to understand that you can't tell if a product contains lead by looking at it."