Lead in power cords?

Thursday 12 January 2006This is over 17 years old. Be careful.

I got a Toshiba port replicator today, and packed in the box was a small slip of yellow paper with tiny print that read:

WARNING: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproducive harm. Wash hands after handling.

One way or another, this is stupid. Either there actually is a risk of harm, and why does the manufacturer make the power cords that way, or there is not, and why put alarming notices in our faces?


One word: lawyers.
They have some strange laws in California. I swear, every single building in that crazy state I've ever entered has one of these right by the door.
All of the Christmas lights we bought a few years ago had this same warning on them. All were made in China. I don't know if there's any correlation to be made there or not.
My guess is its due to lead in the solder, which is cheaper and easier to work with than non-lead based solders.
Funny, I recently unpacked a Toshiba port replicator and read the same little yellow notice slip. Ridiculous. It along with all of the other legally-mandated documentation about dangers of misusing electronics go right into the recycle bin at home. I'm not sure if I should be worried about lead content in power cords or not. By implication do all power cords contain lead? If not, why this one? And why not just put all sorts of noxious chemicals in power cords as long as you can just include a disclaimer?

WARNING: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to arsenic, asbestos, mercury, depleted uranium as well as some sticky stuff that we're not really sure about. Washing your hands won't help, but if it makes you feel better, go right ahead. And don't even think about saying that we didn't warn you.
Yes, I saw this warning on Nikon power cables when I bought a D70 a year ago. Freaked me out -- I handle power cables all the time! I imagine this is more important for kids than adults -- kids are disproportionately affected by heavy-metal poisoning.

I don't think it's about the solder. A quick Google on "lead power cable warning" turns this up:


The intro sez it's about chemicals "found in the surface contact layer of covered wire and cable". For lead, the threshold is 0.03%, or 300 parts per million.

The paper is quite readable -- tho it only talks about what companies have to do to warn users, and nothing about the actual risks.
I only noticed these warning labels when I put up Christmas lights on the tree this year. (googling) Apparently PVC, which is probably what your cord is made from, commonly contains lead:

PVC has the special problem of forming HCl (Hydrochloric Acid) when it degrades, which causes a chain reaction which proceeds rapidly to complete loss of strength (and causes damage to manufacturing equipment). The stabilizers for PVC have thus mostly been metal salts, which could react with the HCl. These have included Lead, Cadmium, Barium, Calcium, Zinc, and organic Tin compounds.

Source: http://www.turnertoys.com/pvc9printable.htm

Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything has a great chapter entitled 'Getting the Lead Out' which goes into fascinating detail on the misadventures of commercial lead uses. Highly recommended reading.

maybe you have just started noticing these labels. The Prop 69 and similar warnings are all over California. Virtually every garage has a prop 69 warning since garages tend to attact cars which currently tend to bring CO, CO2, fuel, MTBEs. Fry's starting having these in their store IIRC about a year ago. They are so common that if there were a more dangerous than usual building, I am not sure I would notice it
yesterday i bought a computer mouse from the dollor store and a lable on it said that it had lead in it it was freaking me out if i touch in i might get cancer
Is lead dangerous in power cords, should we buy ones without lead?
I just got a new camera.I had to go and read the notices section on the user guide! It says, "handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead." How is this possible?
After seeing this warning on my Christmas tree this year I searched around for some answers. It sounds like lead is used in the PVC coating of all power cords. I'm in the IT business so I handle power cords all the time so this really was a shock to me. I've also found warnings to wear gloves when handling and to wash before eating after handling. CNN did a spot on this last year and found alarming high levels of lead on Christmas lights. I think it's scary but what to do, I still digesting the information.
I bought a $50 mushroom lamp yesterday from a toystore. Made in China. But I had to have it.
Same warning on that lamp (actually, with the addition of a CANCER warning).
I called IKEA - they guaranteed their lamp chords don't contain any lead. Maybe because IKEA sells nothing with PVC??

I also called Home Depot - the guy said he would return any item that says 'wash your hands after use'. He found this very suspicious.

Thanks for all your postings - they made me feel less crazy. Although I'm even more confused now.
This is just a legal CYA on the part of manufacturers. These power cords have contained lead since our grandparents were kids. How many of our parents or grandparents came down with cancer because of the power cords? Probably nothing to worry about.
This is concerning. I just opened my Toshiba AC adapter which I had shipped to me, and found the same warning. Why didn't Toshiba warn me about it before I ordered it? And on the flip side, if it's a CYA, why does no one seem to no for sure? I find the lack of information about this, along with the potential risk, very disconcerting.
Melissa Ioannidis 8:58 PM on 8 Aug 2010
I just bought a toshiba laptop with the warning buried inside of the manual. I would have NEVER bought it had I known this. They have the stupid cord right on the right side of the computer where you will always touch it. I may be a little nutty for worrying about it but I think it is a valid concern. If it wasn't, why would they write it? I am wishing I would have sprung for a Dell!
In response to: hmmm 4:55 PM on 12 Jul 2010

We don't know how many people came down with cancer because of lead in various household products. It's hard to say what causes cancer, but is quite evident that cancer is on the rise. There's no reason to believe that this rise in cancer rates is not being caused by our exposure to dangerous chemicals and materials on a daily basis.

My coworker is convinced that he came down with testicular cancer because he wore baggy jeans and would always keep his cell phone in his pocket. Just because this is just an opinion that is not proven, does that automatically mean that it is not true? Someone's Grandpa out there might have loved chewing on power cords as a kid and then eventually got cancer. They sure can't prove it was lead in power cords, but I would say that it doesn't rule out the possibility.
One more thing... to "hmmm": My response was based on my assumption that you were being rhetorical when stating that question. If you were sincerely asking how many parents and grandparents have come down with cancer from power cords, then I apologize and state that I have no idea.
I first noticed this label on my cell phone charger about three years ago. Every cord/charger I have touched since also has it. Not a big deal since no one uses devices that require chargers anymore, right.

The following site was very informative, and it at least addresses the issue of risk, near the bottom under the heading "Labelling requirements/Carcinogenicity and exposure." It appears inhalation and ingestion are the modes of exposure you should be concerned with, including trace amounts left after handling, then transferred to the mouth.

Are we expected to trust that soap and water will remove it?

There are also details on the law that led to these labels, and other information about how lead is used in cords and what you can do to "limit" risks.

Fuck it! everything causes cancer
Anyone out there from Consumer Reports with some input regarding this issue?
Based on gathered information from majority of these comments, I'm assuming that most to all products from Toshiba contain these lead and cancer warnings, and some kind of handling treatment you should use to "prevent any potential harm". Upon reading these labels, I usually disregard them as irrelevant and useless, being that not many people pay attention to them. I've handled multiple electronics and their chargers, and I reassure anyone that nothing physical was ever affected.
All power cords contain lead unless RoHS compliant. RoHS regulations went into effect in the Europe and the UK in 2006. They are currently in place, which means that all electric and electronic equipment being made today must meet RoHS directive rules. RoHS directive rules are not in place in the US.

RoHS definition:
The definition and aim of the RoHS directive is quite simple. The RoHS directive aims to restrict certain dangerous substances commonly used in electronic and electronic equipment. Any RoHS compliant component is tested for the presence of Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Mercury (Hg), Hexavalent chromium (Hex-Cr), Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), and Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). For Cadmium and Hexavalent chromium, there must be less than 0.01% of the substance by weight at raw homogeneous materials level. For Lead, PBB, and PBDE, there must be no more than 0.1% of the material, when calculated by weight at raw homogeneous materials. Any RoHS compliant component must have 100 ppm or less of mercury and the mercury must not have been intentionally added to the component. In the EU, some military and medical equipment are exempt from RoHS compliance.

Source: http://www.rohscompliancedefinition.com
What to do?
Have your doctor give you a heavy metal test.
Go cordless; eliminate other sources of exposure
put filters on water faucets/shower
don't breath bus fumes etc.
try alternative medicine means to get the lead out of your system, such as homeopathy (best), nutraceuticals
move out of Flint
If cancer actually IS on the increase, it will be because:
A: people are living longer, on average, so it will be more likely to happen
B: more people are having their cancer removed or forced into remission, but it will probably recur for them, so that's double the number of cases.
It caould be increased by tiny amounts of lead in cables, but, as you say, you can't prove it. Sitting in traffic jams with diesel vehicles will be afar worse effect, from the particulates.
I doubt that Dell would have lead-free cable, either.

Wash your hands regularly. Use anti-bacterial soap and kill two birds with one stone.
To kelly: The RoHS requirements in Europe must be satisfied by Any manufacturers who want to sell in Europe. It is expensive to have two kinds of power cords on a product, for many reasons including the risk of a mixup. Toshiba may be using up their leaded stock in the US, but in the long run everyone will have RoHS-compliant cords.

As of 2021, most electrical cords are still made with PVC, which contains lead. There is no safe or acceptable level of lead to have in your body, other than zero.

The California warnings are often ridiculous, but in this case, they are spot-on. Cords should be handled with care, and you should wash your hands afterward.

The people who feel better pretending there’s really nothing to worry about are simply in denial. We’re not saying that touching a PVC cord will make you fall down dead inside 5 minutes; but handling them frequently for years on end can and will have a negative impact on your health. Period. There is no exemption from lead poisoning. Get over yourself.

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