New Testing Finds Toxic Metal in Mouthpieces Used in Musical Instruments

Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sends legal notices to 14 companies for failing to warn consumers

For Immediate Release: January 23, 2019

Contacts: Caroline Cox, Senior Scientist, CEH, 541-654-2626, Zack Kaldveer, CEH, 510-938-2664

Portland, OR- Tamara Rubin is a mother of lead poisoned children, who does independent consumer goods toxicity testing (using XRF technology) for the readers of her blog at LeadSafeMama.com. Most of what she tests are things sent to her by readers, but every now and then she thinks to test something in her home environment that she hasn’t tested before. In 2014 she tested her older son’s trombone mouthpiece and it was positive for Lead. That same year, her younger son (A.J., who was Lead Poisoned as a toddler) started taking trumpet lessons (he was just about 11 years old). Fast forward to January of 2017, and Tamara thought to test A.J.’s trumpet mouthpiece (along with the mouthpieces of the other kids in his ensemble). Almost all of them were positive for unsafe levels of Lead, and she decided to report this on her blog at LeadSafeMama.com.

In independent testing commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has found the toxic metal lead in 13 brass mouthpieces used to play instruments like trumpets, saxophones, and trombones. According to these tests, all of the mouthpieces involved in CEH’s legal action would expose a person playing the instrument to daily amounts of lead greater than California’s safety standard. All purchases of tainted products were made in California, but anyone in the country can purchase them online.

CEH sent legal notices to 12 manufacturers and two retailers for failing to warn customers of this health threat, as required by California’s consumer protection law Prop 65. Prop 65 identifies lead as a metal that causes cancer and reproductive harm. Guitar Center Inc. was found to sell 10 of the lead-tainted products.

“Consumers are being needlessly exposed to a deadly toxic metal without their knowledge or consent,” said Michael Green, Chief Executive Officer of CEH. “Often, parents are buying these products for children seeking to join the school band or simply enjoy learning a musical instrument, unaware that their kids are ingesting lead while they play.”

Lead is an extremely toxic metal linked to lowered intelligence, delayed puberty, and can cancer. Children are particularly at risk because their bodies are still developing, and direct exposure can severely affect mental and physical development, including lower IQ test scores and school achievement. Lead can even harm an unborn child as a result of exposure to a pregnant woman or women likely to become pregnant. The metal is also what is known as an “endocrine disrupting chemical”, which means even small doses can wreak havoc on a human’s hormone system, especially children.

Tamara’s son A.J. (now 16), is now a promising young jazz trumpet player [he has already played at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Portland Blues Festival and other professional events and venues]. He was poisoned by the careless work of a painting contractor when he was 3 years old — and has carried the heavy burden of systemic damage from lead poisoning almost his entire life — including, in his case, severe ADHD, Dyslexia, OCD, SPD, anxiety and complex GI issues. “I was so upset when I thought to test his mouthpiece and it was positive, he just did not need one more possible source of lead in his body; he needs every opportunity to heal,” Tamara stated.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say there is no safe blood lead level in children. The AAP also calls for stricter regulations, expanded federal resources, joint action by government officials and pediatricians, and says that “Identifying and eliminating sources before exposure occurs is the only reliable way to protect kids from lead poisoning.”

Although children are primarily at risk, lead exposure is also dangerous for adults, including high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm, miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women.

“For nearly two decades CEH has successfully fought to rid lead from a long list of toxic products including baby powder, children’s medicines, candy, vinyl lunch boxes, bounce houses, artificial turf, jewelry, diaper cream, toys, and bibs; holding mega-corporations like Walgreens, Disney, Mattel, and Toys R Us accountable,” said Caroline Cox, Senior Scientist at CEH. “These new results show that, unfortunately, our work is far from done. Manufacturers must stop using lead in mouthpieces, and retailers should stop selling them now.”

“When I brought this issue to the attention of our professional trumpet player friends, who are with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, some of them already knew about the concern for Lead in mouth pieces, and they helped me locate a Lead-free mouthpiece for my son and also helped to find Lead-free USA made mouthpiece brands I could recommend to others.” says Tamara.

By taking the issue directly to companies that make and sell toxic mouthpieces, CEH’s goal is to create a legally binding standard that will protect consumers, especially children, from the health risks posed by these lead-tainted mouthpieces. In the short term, CEH recommends the use of stainless steel mouthpieces, which aren’t made with lead, as an alternative to brass ones.

“There is no place in musical instruments for a toxic metal that can cause cancer and damage children’s brains,” concluded Cox. “Until we get hazardous lead out of these products, consumers deserve the right to know what’s going in their mouths.”

We are thankful for pioneers and independent advocates like Lead Safe Mama and her readers.


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