Arizona health regulators issued a warning Thursday about a popular brand of high-end poker chips that may contain high levels of lead.
The warning about Paulson brand chips - used in many casinos and
sold at retail to gamblers - came a day after ABC affiliate KNXV-TV in Phoenix ran a story about its investigation into the potential contamination.
"We're bringing this to your attention because of the potential exposure to the most vulnerable population, the children of families that currently have this product in their homes," Diane Eckles, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services' environmental health office, wrote in a letter to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. "There is also a potential for the dealers to expose their families, specifically children, to this lead hazard."
The television station had 200 of the poker chips tested by a private laboratory, and swabs showed all had levels of surface lead exceeding the EPA limit of 0.06 percent. More than half maxed out the swab's 10 percent limit, 160 times the federal limit.
More detailed tests in 40 chips for total lead showed that all tested positive, with the lowest having four times the EPA limit and one chip used at a Las Vegas casino containing 45 percent total lead.
Officials with the company that makes and distributes Paulson chips, Gaming Partners International Corp. in Las Vegas, declined to be interviewed by the TV station. Chief executive Gerard Charlier issued a statement saying it objected to any implication its chips could pose a health hazard when used as designed.
"Although testing has proven the existence of lead in the chips, the mere presence of lead is not sufficient to prove there is a health risk," Charlier said in the statement. "In fact, independent testing has also demonstrated that the simple handling of these chips would not produce any risk of health concerns to the consumer nor to the environment."
The statement also said the chips have been reformulated and they now only contain trace amounts of lead well below applicable safety standards.
A call seeking comment from Charlier from The Associated Press was not immediately returned Thursday.
Gaming Partners is a publicly traded company headquartered in Las Vegas that manufactures and supplies casino equipment, including chips, dice, playing cards and gambling furniture.
Shown the test results, Will Humble, an Arizona health services official who formerly headed the state's lead poisoning prevention program, said he was shocked.
"If you were to take chips like these and spread them out, 100 of them on the ground, essentially it would be a federal Superfund site," Humble told the TV station. "That's how much lead is in these things. I've been doing this for many, many years and seldom do we come across products that contain this much lead that are in people's homes."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)