Keys are Not a Baby Toy

One of the founding principals of Locksport is educating the public about security. Usually this is physical security, but today I want to discuss public health.

I saw a post Friday from a California Health care company that displayed a profound ignorance of the risks of lead exposure in keys.

Keys are a dangerous child’s toy for two reasons. The primary reason is lead exposure. The secondary reason is contamination by lock lubricants that can leave residue on our keys such as Triflow, WD-40, powdered graphite lubricants, etc.
Brass contains lead. Touching brass, including keys exposes your skin to lead. Giving a baby brass keys to play with or even suggesting keys are a toy is dangerously irresponsible. Babies like to put things in their mouths. The lead in brass keys makes them taste sweet. Babies have a small body mass so it takes less lead exposure than an adult to cause harm.
The Wikipedia article on brass has an explanation why keys don’t come with a lead warning and why there is lead in brass:

“In October 1999 the California State Attorney General sued 13 key manufacturers and distributors over lead content. In laboratory tests, state researchers found the average brass key, new or old, exceeded the California Proposition 65 limits by an average factor of 19, assuming handling twice a day. In April 2001 manufacturers agreed to reduce lead content to 1.5%, or face a requirement to warn consumers about lead content. Keys plated with other metals are not affected by the settlement, and may continue to use brass alloys with higher percentage of lead content.”

“To enhance the machinability of brass, lead is often added in concentrations of around 2%. Since lead has a lower melting point than the other constituents of the brass, it tends to migrate towards the grain boundaries in the form of globules as it cools from casting. The pattern the globules form on the surface of the brass increases the available lead surface area which in turn affects the degree of leaching. In addition, cutting operations can smear the lead globules over the surface. These effects can lead to significant lead leaching from brasses of comparatively low lead content.”

As a matter of public health safety, try to inform as many people as you can: Do not let children play with keys, be aware of your lead exposure and wash your hands with soap and water before touching food.

– The LockEx Team

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