WTF? Lead in a power cord?

Is there really a significant amount of lead in the power cord of a DVD drive? There shouldn’t be.

Lead is hideously nasty stuff. The dose that will measurably lower a child’s IQ is measured in micrograms. Now maybe the lead that Toshiba warns about in the customer instructions Mike had such a good time making fun of is in nanograms, and is mentioned only because of California’s silly toxic substances law (another intitiative special).

But if not, then what’s lead doing in an ordinary power cord? “Wash hands after handling?” No, if there’s enough lead to matter in the power cord, throw the DVD drive away and never buy anything from that manufacturer again.

Update Duhhhhhh…A reader points out the obvious answer: solder. “Until very recently,” he reports, most electrical and electronic assemblies had milligrams, even grams, of lead in the form of solder.” But see Mike’s reply above for an alternative and more convincing answer: lead is used to stabliize the polyvinyl chloride — PVC used as insulation. A reader points out that most garden hoses are made of PVC, and a garden hose recently purchased from Sears carried a warning not to drink from it: a warning I would guess few children know about, let alone heed.

Mike is entirely right: the practice of throwing warnings about indiscriminately is bad for the public health. One the other hand, I’d like to know more than I do now about the quantitative relationships here: are we dealing with micrograms or nanograms? If it’s micrograms, then I’m not sure Mike is right that fire-safety considerations trump the toxic risk of lead

Second update Edited to get the units right; the relevant dosage is in the microgram range (single digits of micrograms per deciliter of blood) not the nanogram range. Perhaps if the lead had been taken out of gasoline in the 1930s rather than the 1980s I’d make fewer mistakes.

Third update Another reader points out that garden hoses are now made of PVC [Yup, but not all, and not all lead-stabilized. Good advice here. —mo’h]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: