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A back to school warning: Children’s vinyl lunch boxes can contain dangerous levels of lead

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced it is
filing lawsuits today against makers and retailers of soft vinyl lunch
boxes that can expose children to harmful levels of lead.

The Center has also notified several other companies of violations under California’s toxics law Proposition 65 (Prop 65) for lunch boxes with high lead levels. The lawsuits and violation notices against companies including Toys “R” Us, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, Time Warner, Walgreens, and others involve many lunch boxes featuring beloved children’s characters including Superman, Tweety Bird, Powerpuff Girls, and Hamtaro. The level of lead in one lunch box, an Angela Anaconda box made by Targus International, tested at 56,400 parts per million (ppm) of lead, more than 90 times the 600 ppm legal limit for lead in paint in children’s products.

“Lead exposure should not be on the lunch menu when kids’ go back to school this fall,” said Michael Green, CEH Executive Director. “There is no reason to expose children to any lead from lunch boxes. We are calling on these companies to recall these products and take action to eliminate lead from their products in the future.”

Initial independent laboratory testing commissioned by CEH has already found seventeen lunch boxes with high lead levels, and the group’s investigation is ongoing. In addition to the testing on the Angela Anaconda lunch box, tests on other lunch boxes showed levels of lead between two and twenty-five times the legal limit for lead paint in children’s products. In most cases, the highest lead levels were found in the lining of lunch boxes, where lead could come into direct contact with food. Lead is known to be harmful to children even in minute amounts, as it can impair brain development and cause other behavioral and developmental problems. Children may be exposed to lead from lunch boxes when they eat food that has been stored in them. Handling the lunchboxes just before eating could also be an exposure risk.

It is not possible to tell by appearance whether a vinyl lunch box may contain lead, so CEH is advising parents to avoid vinyl lunch boxes altogether. “Parents may need to seek out alternatives, since many mass produced lunch boxes are vinyl or vinyl-lined,” said Green. “A reusable cloth bag would be a good alternative.” Parents can find information on how to test for lead in their children’s lunch boxes at home at

The CEH lawsuits were filed today against lunch box producers Igloo and InGear, and against retailers Toys “R” Us, Walgreens, Big Lots, and Ross Stores. Earlier this year, CEH sent notices of Prop 65 violations to Targus International, DC Comics, Time Warner, Warner Brothers, Binney & Smith (a division of Hallmark and the makers of Crayola-brand lunch boxes), Fast Forward LLC, and Holiday Fair Incorporated. Under Prop 65, companies have sixty days to respond to violation notices, after which lawsuits can be filed. CEH expects to file more notifications of lunch boxes that violate Prop 65 in the near future.

Photos of the lunch boxes can be found at

Test your child’s lunch box
Because it is not possible to tell by appearance whether a vinyl lunch box may contain lead, CEH is advising parents to avoid buying vinyl lunch boxes altogether as we cannot guarantee they are lead free. You can test vinyl lunch boxes you already own using a hand-held lead testing kit, often available at hardware stores. Two reliable and easy-to-use brands are PACE’s Lead Alert and LeadCheck (also available online at

If your child’s lunch box tests positive, or you need assistance obtaining a testing kit please call CEH at (510) 594-9864. We can help you interpret the results and can use your product as evidence in our ongoing work get the lead out of our children’s lunch boxes.

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