Recent recalls of toys containing excessive amounts of lead have resulted in an increase in the promotion and use of home lead testing kits. Health Canada’s Product Safety Laboratory has evaluated a number of home lead test kits available on the Canadian marketplace and found that the results they give are not fully reliable. Test results vary considerably from one brand of test kit to another and are also affected by the type of product or material being tested.

Unreliable Lead Testing Kits

Lead is a soft, heavy metal which is poisonous when absorbed into the body. It is a naturally occurring element that is found in trace amounts everywhere in the human environment. Lead is especially toxic to young children, and can cause serious learning and behavioural problems even at very low exposure levels. Regulations under Health Canada’s Hazardous Products Act restrict the amount of lead which can be used in children’s products, such as toys and children’s jewellery.

Since the test kits indicate the presence of lead by a colour change, the results may be affected by pigments present in the tested product. Also, the test kit may not detect lead in a product which has a protective or decorative coating. The test results are hard to interpret since a positive reading does not necessarily mean that there is enough lead in the product to create an exposure risk. The kits have a limited shelf life, and performance can be affected by the age of the kits.

Because of these concerns, Health Canada does not recommend the use of home lead test kits by consumers.

What You Can Do to Protect Children From Lead

If you suspect a toy, children’s jewellery item, or other product may contain lead, immediately remove it from the reach of children.

  • If the product is low cost, it can be thrown away in normal household waste.
  • If the product is not a low-cost item, contact the manufacturer or retailer regarding your lead content concerns.
  • Remove from children’s reach any product which has paint peeling off any of its surfaces. Children may eat peeling paint containing lead.
  • If you believe your child has swallowed an object containing lead, seek immediate medical attention. There is a serious risk of severe or fatal lead poisoning if an object containing high amounts of lead remains in the body.
  • If your child has sucked or chewed regularly on a product which you think may contain lead, ask your doctor to test your child’s blood for lead.
  • Check Health Canada’s website regularly for up-to-date product recall information. You can also check company Web sites for information on products they have recalled.