May 13 2008
For those with latex allergies, it can seem that almost everything has a little
bit of latex (natural rubber latex) in it: rubber bands, rubber tub toys, rubber
pencil grips, rubber utensil grips, latex gloves, and more...
"Natural rubber latex is a common ingredient found in many consumer products
... [N]atural rubber latex is derived from a milky substance found in rubber trees
(Hevea brasiliensis). While many people come in safe contact with latex-containing
products every day, some susceptible individuals have developed hypersensitivity
to proteins derived from natural rubber latex, which can cause allergic reactions.
... Latex allergy generally develops after repeated exposure to products containing
natural rubber latex. When latex-containing medical devices or supplies come in
contact with mucous membranes, the membranes may absorb latex proteins. The immune
system of some susceptible individuals produces antibodies that react immunologically
with these antigenic proteins."
It might seem obvious that someone with a rubber latex allergy needs to avoid rubber
bands and latex gloves. Their names give them away. When the name doesn't contain
the information needed, or contains misleading information, the topic can get more
People who are trying to avoid latex might not know to avoid glue pens, keyboard
cords, or the elastic in bathing suits. At the same time, they might think it obvious
that they need to avoid latex paint.
"Not all latex products are made from natural sources. Products containing
man-made (synthetic) latex, such as latex paint, are unlikely to cause a reaction
because they aren't used against the skin and don't contain the natural
Since the "latex" in latex paint is man-made, it does not contain the
same proteins that are found in the latex that comes from rubber trees, and many
with latex allergies can use it without any negative effects.
For those with latex allergies, it may be comforting to know that latex paint is
free of natural rubber latex; for most other people, it is not likely something
they have given much thought.
That said, latex paint is not the only product people come into contact with on
a frequent basis that has a confusing name.
With the many toy recalls and health warnings in the past year, consumers have been
warned of the dangers of lead paint. Unlike latex paint, lead paint actually does
contain lead, and it is a health hazard for everyone (not just those with a possible
"Lead is a highly toxic metal that may cause a range of health problems, especially
in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to the
brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, nerves and blood. Lead may also
cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases,
death. Some symptoms of lead poisoning may include headaches, stomachaches, nausea,
tiredness and irritability. Children who are lead poisoned may show no symptoms."
With recent recalls, some children have been told that certain toys are unsafe,
and they need to stop playing with them because they have lead paint. Some families
have lead paint in their homes, or in the soil around their homes. They have been
told to be careful when remodeling, painting, and playing or growing food in the
"Dust and paint chips from chipped and peeling lead paint are still the number
one source of childhood lead poisoning. However, there is a risk of lead poisoning
from other sources such as jewelry, toys, imported food, pottery, cosmetics and
traditional medicines that contain lead."
With all this concern about lead, some are confused. Why do the toys with the lead
paint need to go away, but the pencils they use everyday are lead pencils? Many
know that the "lead" in a pencil is not really lead, but, once again,
the name can be confusing.
"The 'lead' in a pencil has not been made of lead for centuries. The
ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used small lead discs to rule lines on
sheets of papyrus before writing on them with a brush and ink. By the 14th century,
European artists were using rods of lead, zinc or silver to make pale grey drawings
called silverpoint. In the 16th century, Conrad Gesner of Zurich, in Switzerland,
in his Treatise on fossils, described a writing rod held in a wooden case. But lead
ceased to be a writing implement in 1564, when pure graphite was discovered at Borrowdale
in the North of England and the modern pencil was born. Graphite is a form of carbon,
which is one of the softest minerals. When it is pressed against paper, thin layers
flake off to leave a black mark. ... The 'lead' is made by mixing together
fine graphite and clay and then firing it in sticks in a kiln. ... The leads for
coloured pencils or crayons contain no graphite at all. They are
made from pure clay and wax, coloured with pigments."
Questions of the Week:
In what instances can the names of products help people easily differentiate which
products may or may not have health implications? What other products with confusing
and/or misleading names (besides latex paint and lead pencils) do you know about
that might have health implications for certain people? If you or someone you know
has a question about a product, where can you get trustworthy information about
the contents, the safety, and the other potential health issues that may be associated
with a given product? How can the people who are affected find out the truth about
a product when the name complicates the issue, rather than clarifies it?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
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