Home lead test kits are legitimate, but limited, says Consumer Reports

Below is a news release issued today by Consumer Reports magazine, with my comments added in [bracketed italics].

Photos of the three lead testing kits that checked out as useful by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports finds some home lead-testing kits useful, though limited, screening tools for consumers

YONKERS, NY — Consumer Reports recently tested five home lead-testing kits and concluded that three of the five kits tested were useful though limited screening tools for consumers concerned about lead levels in the products in their homes.

CR found that three of the five lead test kits, Homax Lead Check, Lead Check Household Lead Test Kit and Lead Inspector, detected surface or accessible lead but don’t detect lead embedded below the surface.

[The Homax kit clearly explains the need to chip into a product to test below the first layer of paint. Unless you want to damage your toys, home testing means surface testing only. I'm not concerned unless the paint on a toy begins to wear or chip.]

Consumer Reports advises parents that if an item tests positive for lead it should be removed from use. To ascertain exact lead levels, items must be screened professionally.

In Consumer Reports tests, the Homax Lead Check ($8); and the Lead Check Household Lead Test Kit ($18.45) were the easiest to use and identified accessible lead in toys, ceramic dishware, and vinyl or plastic. These two kits consist of cigarette-shaped swabs, made by the same company, that turn pink when they detect lead.

[Homax was the brand used in Thingamababy's How to Test Toys for Lead Step-by-Step in Photos.]

If lead concentrations are low, these swabs can take up to 2 hours to change color, but in CR’s tests, high concentrations produced immediate results. The eight-swab Lead Check Household Lead Test Kit pack is a better bargain than the Homax two-swab pack. Its packaging was also less susceptible to being crushed.

“Manufacturers and the government need to strengthen their efforts to eliminate lead in the marketplace,” said Consumer Reports Senior Director for Product Safety Donald Mays.

“In the meantime, consumers need a way to assess the safety of products in their homes, and lead test kits are a useful though limited screening tool.”

Consumer Reports notes that the Lead Inspector ($13) test kit might be superior for pink or red items, because if those shades of paint bled onto a Lead Check swab, it might falsely appear to be positive. Swabs turn yellow, brown, gray, or black if lead is detected. It can take up to 10 minutes for a color change to occur at low lead levels. The kit, with eight tests, identified accessible lead and might be a good choice for painted metal jewelry. CR recommends having good ventilation and wearing gloves to protect skin from chemicals.

In Consumer Reports tests, the First Alert ($13) kit indicated some false negatives for accessible lead and the Pro-Lab Lead Surface ($10) test kit was less sensitive and more difficult to use than the others.

About Consumer Reports:
Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

[end news release]

So, what lesson have we learned? Don’t blindly trust a government that says home testing is a bunch of hooey. We need independent organizations like Consumers Union, because the US government serves corporations first, voters second and non-voters last. I highly recommend subscribing to the Consumer Reports magazine or website (separate services).

Now, here are links to the three OK testing kits… the product names are similar, so check the company name when buying kits at your local hardware store.

  1. Lead Check by HomaxAs profiled on Thingamababy, “detected surface or accessible lead but [doesn't] detect lead embedded below the surface.”
  2. Lead Check Household Lead Test Kit by Hybrivet Systems (or made by Homax, apparently the same company) – this eight-swab kit “is a better bargain than the Homax two-swab pack.”
  3. Lead Inspector by Abotex – “…might be superior for pink or red items.”


One Response to “Home lead test kits are legitimate, but limited, says Consumer Reports”

  1. Mighty Mom says:

    This a very reliable source of information! I don’t recall seeing a better site! (Even after searching Google!)

    January 1st, 2008 at 6:01 pm

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