(SACRAMENTO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today sued 13 key manufacturers and distributors for allegedly failing to warn that their products expose consumers to the toxic chemical lead in violation of Proposition 65.
"We believe the public should know that handling keys - ordinary brass keys like you'll find in your pocket or pocketbook to lock and unlock your house door - may expose you to the toxic chemical lead at levels that exceed Proposition 65 limits," Lockyer said. "Given this discovery of lead exposure, parents may want to rethink using their jangling keys as a convenient toy for their toddlers and small children."
Proposition 65 - otherwise known as the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 - was passed by the voters to protect the public from exposure to toxic substances known to cause cancer or be harmful to reproductive health. California has placed lead on the Proposition 65 list. Lead also is a known neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system of children who ingest it.
Under the law, businesses are required to provide a "clear and reasonable" warning before exposing anyone to a chemical on the Proposition 65 list. Notices may appear in a variety of ways, including warnings on product labels or signs posted where the product is sold. The warning is required unless the business can show that the exposure poses no significant risk. The law provides a fine of up to $2,500 for each violation.
Keys generally are made of brass containing 2 % lead which makes them easier to cut. Some keys, including many car keys, are steel and contain only trace amounts of lead. Chrome-plated keys also produce lower exposure to lead.
In laboratory tests for the state, researchers looked at more than three dozen keys from 13 different makers. While the researchers found widely varying levels of lead on the hands of test subjects, the very lowest test results still exceed the Proposition 65 "No Significant Risk Level" of 0.5 micrograms per day when doubled on the assumption that people handle keys at least twice a day. While the highest testing results were 80 times the 0.5 micrograms per day limit, the average of all keys tested was about 19 times the "No Significant Risk Level." Both new and old keys tested were found to release lead at fairly similar rates.
The 13 companies named in the Proposition 65 civil lawsuit filed in the San Francisco Superior Court are: Ilco Unican Corp., Master Lock Co., Schlage Lock Co., Kwikset Corp., Best Lock Corp., Arrow Lock Manufacturing Co., Weiser Lock Corp., Dexter Co., Jet Hardware Manufacturing Co., Chicago Lock Co., Olympus Lock, Medeco Security Locks, and American Lock Co.
It was noted that consumers can reduce contact with lead from keys by placing plastic or rubber covers over the head of the key and washing their hands after handling keys. Consumers also might want to avoid mixing their keys with gum, candy or other food products commonly placed in a pocket or purse.
"No one really knows how much of the lead from keys is being ingested, but we do know that consumers are being exposed to lead, some of which may get into the body through hand-to-mouth contact," Lockyer said. "This exposure is sufficient to trigger the Proposition 65 requirement that consumers be warned or have the company prove that the exposure is safe."