The new law reforming federal consumer protections has been hailed as the best improvement in child safety laws since the 1970s. But the law's protections don't kick in right away. Here's how to keep your kids safe right now:
1. Don't buy toys with rare Earth magnets. These popular toys with super-powerful magnets have killed one child and injured at least 86 others by damaging the children's intestines after the tiny magnets were swallowed. Although 8 million of these toys have been recalled, toy manufacturers don't seem to have figured out how to make toys that will keep the magnets safely enclosed. Not worth the risk.
2. Shun metal jewelry for kids. Time and again, children have been poisoned when they chew or swallow jewelry containing excessive amounts of toxic lead. A California investigation last fall found that 18 percent of children's jewelry sold at big retailers violated the state's strict lead standard. The new federal consumer protection law requires kids' jewelry to be lead free in six months. In the meantime, plastic is a safer bet.
3. Be suspicious of brightly painted wooden and plastic toys. Multiple recalls over the past year have shown that the old system failed to protect kids from toys with toxic lead paint. The toys in the stores this Christmas season won't have to meet the new stringent lead testing requirements. So either buy toys you're absolutely sure are lead free, or avoid those with paint.
4. Avoid plastic toys if phthalates scare you. The ban on these plastic-softening chemicals, which have been linked to hormonal changes, doesn't go into effect for six months. Look for phthalate-free rubber duckies, or avoid soft plastic for now. Here are some other ways to reduce your family's exposure to phthalates.
5. Check recall notices on the Consumer Product Safety Commission site whenever you consider toys, cribs, or other baby gear—especially if they're secondhand. The new law requires the CPSC to create an online database where consumers can post and read notices on problems with toys and children's gear. For now, the only recourse is to be proactive and search the CPSC's kludgy database of recalls.
Sources: Consumer Federation of America, CPSC