Amid Toy Recalls, Parents Find Resources, Reassurances
The latest recall of lead-tainted toys has left parents wondering if any toys are safe for their children. The answer is yes, probably. But there are no guarantees.
Children who have played with contaminated toys probably didn't ingest enough lead to raise their blood levels appreciably. But "for children under age 6, even the lowest level of lead exposure is associated with harm to the developing brain," says Leonardo Trasande, a pediatrician and assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "This is a good time for caution and for proactive intervention."
Parents worried about recalled toys, or lead contamination in general, have a number of resources at hand.
· The Consumer Product Safety Commission lists recalled toys, with photographs and links to manufacturers.
· The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has good basic information on protecting children from lead.
· Children who may have had contact with lead-tainted toys can be taken to a pediatrician or local health department for a blood lead test. It involves a needle stick but is otherwise simple and almost always paid for by insurance.
· Lead test kits sold in hardware stores aren't reliable, doctors and product safety experts say, because lead in toys can be covered by a coating that can keep the lead from being detected. The kits are designed for testing items like dishes, where lead is sometimes in the surface glaze.
· Avoid buying metal jewelry for children. It's often made of lead, and last year a Reebok charm containing the metal killed a 4-year-old in Minneapolis who swallowed it.
· Frequent hand-washing reduces the amount of lead a child may transfer from hand to mouth if he or she handles lead-tainted toys or picks up lead dust from lead paint in homes. It also reduces transmission of colds and other infectious diseases.
· Pediatric environmental health specialty units at 11 academic medical centers around the country provide information for parents and clinical services for children.
· When it comes to finding toys that are lead free, the surest way would be to choose American-made toys, or toys without paint. But since 80 percent of the world's toys are made in China, that would make for a dull toy box.
"Just seeing a 'Made in China' mark shouldn't necessarily raise concerns," says Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America. And, she adds, there's no way to tell by looking at a painted toy if it contains lead. Since parents can't police the global toy supply chain, she says, it's up to manufacturers to ride herd more closely on their far-flung suppliers, bringing in third-party inspectors if needed. "They need to ensure that safety is a priority in every step of the supply chain."