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Warning about old toy gyroscopes (contains poisonous LEAD)

Lead poisoning results in both long-term permanent disabilities as well as short-term symptoms. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation and organ failure. It can result in delayed talking and use of words in children. Permanent disabilities include cognitive deficits (brain damage).

Lead was commonly used in toy gyroscopes in the 20th century, often with very high lead content. The manufacturers used lead because it was cheap, malleable and in particular heavy which makes for a very good gyroscope. Unfortunately the extremely harmful nature and risks of using lead were not well known or regulated many decades ago. Toy gyroscopes often have a sentimental value, are quite small and also very resilient. As a result there are many toy gyroscopes that remain in circulation and contain lead. Surprising they are still often resold without health warnings.

Be careful about handing down toy gyroscopes to children.

In some cases the metal was exposed without paint on the surface, increasing the risks (more lead being absorbed into the body). Lead in toys is now illegal in the European Union and most other countries. In the UK the EU laws are enforced under The Toys (Safety) Regulations act 1989 (and later laws). Toy gyroscopes with a CE Mark (or boxes with CE marks) will have been regulated/tested. CE marking is a EU/EEC standard (but often seen on toys around the world). CE marking started in 1993 and as a rough guide toy gyroscopes in EEC/EU countries from the late 1990s won't contain lead. Please consider this if you are thinking about passing on a old toy gyroscope to a child e.g. grandparent to grandchild. I would strong advice buying a new gyroscope that won't have any lead content or hardly any.

Interest fact: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA has been monitoring for children with high levels of lead. 7.5% of children in the US had 'concerning' levels of 10 > micrograms per decilitre in their blood. By 2010 this level had dropped to less than 1% of children.


About the Author

Glenn Turner has been designing and manufacturing gyroscopes since the late 1990s. He founded Gyroscope.com and has sold gyroscopes to 138 countries. He has developed a number of custom gyroscopes including gyros for specialist medical applications and has done consultancy work for a F1 racing team. He developed the first afford control moment gyroscope for teaching space gyroscopes. His other passions include Stirling engines and Tesla Turbines.