Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Are lead minis dangerous for children and is it ok to tell a parent how they should view/treat lead minis in their home?

As a mini gamer often the lead vs. non-lead debate makes me feel like a vegan at a cattle ranchers convention.  It is easy to offend some gamers by just mentioning "lead free."  On more than one occasion just asking if something has lead in it has gotten me dirty looks, and or embroiled nasty flame-rants, etc.

So in response to a discussion about this I've had in the past and recently online.  I thought I'd just make a blog post about it and sort of once and for all, just for my own catharsis, just talk about it a little bit.

First my take on lead is as follows.  Can you be an over protective parent and just get carried away with sanitizing your home and going nuts about stuff?  Of course.  I believe there is a balance.  The flip side to that is that I also believe it is a slippery slope to start saying that "well there is dangerous stuff all around us we just have to deal with it."  To me I end up asking, so the point is "best to ignore it all"? 

The answer to the question of whether or not one should have lead minis in their home is 100% an independent call.  It really all just depends on where and how they are stored and whether or not they have kids.  If one does not have kids, it is really a non-issue.  Far more dangerous things in the world to worry about.  Even if one has kids, I do agree that there are likely more dangerous things in the cleaning cabinet than lead minis. 

Ultimately I think this is always going to be a choice of the individual and I think that should be what the community viewpoint is.  I don't think people on either side should criticize.  Yet I see a lot of smugness out there.  I have seen endless comments dismissing the danger of lead as trivial.  I rarely see people bashing leadheads for owning their lead minis though, not saying it doesn't happen, but I think it is far less frequent than teasing about "don't eat the lead mini and you'll be ok" sorts of dismissive comments many wargamers make on the issue.

Have kids been harmed?

While as many as 20 million birds and animals die each year from lead exposure and the World Health Organization "estimated 143,000 deaths per year result from lead poisoning, with lead paint is a major contributor. Exposure contributes to 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year and 99 percent of children affected by high exposure to lead live in low- and middle-income countries." From LINK

Though to answer the question directly, how many kids in say the US, Canada and the UK die each year from eating minis.  Probably zero, maybe one every several years, those are just guesses as I couldn't find any info on that.  Given the somewhat high standards, lots of consumer protections and industries that don't want to get hit with class action suits I would think we in the post industrial world have it far better than our third world neighbors.  From what I have read I believe the vast majority of the lead poisoning deaths that occur are in the third world, central Africa, and in nations where there are little to no environmental, health, workplace safety and consumer protection regulation.  All that said it only takes trace amounts of lead in a small child's system to do irreparable, potentially very serious damage that will have a life long negative impact.
So there are not thousands of poor little kids eating classic 80s lead minis and dying every year.  I haven't heard anyone out there really making that claim though.
Anyway to get back to the discussion at hand.  Ok what is the deal with lead? Is it really dangerous to kids?  The quick and factually undeniable answer is YES.

You can go and do the research if you'd like on why lead is deemed toxic to children.  Here is a basic fact sheet on it LINK

Here is a National Safety Council piece on lead safety LINK

Here is a Centers for Disease Control info page on lead safety LINK

Here is a decent article from the Huffington Post on the topic (yes I know the Huff post is a left lefty publication, but I believe the article is soundly written without bias in terms of their stats, etc.).  LINK

There are many better sources out there and one can spend days and days reading up on it.  In general there is zero debate though that lead is extremely dangerous and harmful to children under the age of 12 for sure and most sources say that children as old as 18 (as long as they are still developing mentally and physically) can be adversely impacted. 

So are there any cases of harm befalling children from lead, I feel compelled to provide at least one.  But again that was not the nature of this post, I did not for the record seek to make any sort of negative statement on lead minis, etc. etc.

The question about whether or not children have been negatively impacted by lead minis is a complex one.  First you do not die from lead exposure, in order to cause death exposure has to be extreme.  There have been children who have died from lead poisoning though for sure. 

Here is at least a confirmed caste of a child dying from swallowing a "lead charm" which hmm ... what is a small lead mini after all.  Bear in mind that it looks like that charm had a high lead content like above 90% which for minis is somewhat rare.  I think most lead minis even back in the day were a mix and it seems like 60-70% lead I've heard was/is the norm for "lead" minis.

It is from the Minnesota department of Health, again a reputable site, LINK

Oddly enough that incident involved a heart shaped charm that had something to do with Reebok shoes and there was a multimillion dollar lawsuit a few years after the child's death over it. 
There have been many reported instances of adverse exposures and whatnot and stats on the overall lead exposure rates and the effect can be found readily. 

But finding cases of child lead poisoning from minis, I'd be surprised if one found any.  While I do not think you will find CNN or the local newspaper taking up stories about kids eating miniatures, I am certain that children have had harmful lead exposure from lead miniatures.  It is just a law of large numbers thing.  The reality too with lead is that again, people do not often die from it, adults get lead poisoning and then get treatment.  Kids if they don't get outright lead poisoning then they just get ADDHD, they have a lower IQ and a host of other permanent health issues.  So how and when is that going to be detected?  Who is going to be able to prove that 20 years ago that old grenadier mini the kid ate gave them a learning disability?  Again though one can have lead exposure as a kid and continue to live and probably 99.9999999999999999999% do without much detection or change.  If you have ADDHD as a kid, you can survive and even thrive, but your life is going to be more challenging.  If you take a 10 point hit to your IQ, same thing.

So the majority of issues from lead exposure are probably not even detected.  So who is to say how much of a problem it is or is not.  Clearly manufacturers that sell minis to children have either stopped producing with lead or labeled their products to warn parents not to let children (usually the label says "under 14") play with them.

Also I want to say again that I do not judge other parents who feel they can safely have lead minis in their home with kids around, I am quite positive that it can easily, safely can be done.  I happen to have FIVE children who are all under the age of nine and who are particularly adept at getting into pretty much everything.  There have been instances where my older children have gotten into something in a matter of just a few minutes and had the younger child end up with whatever it was they were into.

For me as a parent if there is a miniscule chance of any of that sort of negative thing happening to my kids I take notice.  At the end of the day the lead issue boils down to me having specific miniatures.  I will opt not to have those minis and just use other minis instead.  For me it is a no-brainer.  For others who feel they can safely secure things, etc. and keep them away from the kids, it also might be a no-brainer in the other direction.  I would not presume to judge them and I would  hope they would not judge me.   


I game for fun, it is a little hobby.  If there is a one in a million chance something could be permanently harmful to my children I do whatever I can to keep it out of their reach or just look for a safer alternative.  With lead the decision was easy.  It is non-essential to our life, I didn't have very much, I got rid of what I had and just don't bring more into the house.  My choice, not a blanket statement that every other mini gamer should follow my example.  Yet asking if there are lead free options I feel that is A-OK thing to do and I shouldn't have to endlessly justify that request to others.  Again I do not feel that I have the right to go around and ask people if they have kids and then if they say yes tell them they shouldn't have lead around.  I would feel like a jerk and I'd be totally in the wrong.  But I have never done that.  I've never gone somewhere and said "lead is bad and you are a bad person if you have lead minis" or "if you have lead minis as a parent you are a bad parent" ... seriously though I feel as though saying those things would get just the same response I get when I just ask "is there lead in that" or "hey does anyone know of a lead free option for this fig" ... etc.

I have owned lead figures in the past and might again in the future (when my children are much older than ages 3-9).  The reality for me is I do not honestly lament not being a lead collector very much anymore.  There are a few ranges out there with figures I'd like to own for sure that I have avoided but its not a major thing for me.  I did have to get rid of maybe 100 or so not very rare or valuable figures.  The biggest hit was getting rid of a couple of Flames of War armies at fire sale prices, but such is life. 

I am perfectly happy keeping my minis lead free pewter, plastic and resin.  It isn't that big of a deal honestly and I understand many out there dearly love lead minis.  I do too really.  So perhaps we should all just get along.  If I ask for a lead free option, it doesn't mean I'm saying lead is bad.  I just have another preference. 

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