Mattel's two recent recalls of toys containing lead have alarmed and concerned parents. If the world's largest toymaker cannot stop lead-painted toys from entering the marketplace, parents reason, then how safe are toys from other manufacturers? And for that matter, how safe are the toys already in our homes?
While it is disturbing to learn that tainted toys are being sold by retailers large and small, the Environmental Protection Agency notes that the primary sources of lead exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead contaminated dust, and lead contaminated residential soil. Lead poisoning has been linked to developmental and learning disorders. More than 300,000 children in the U.S. have lead levels high enough to cause irreversible damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children six and under are most affected. Because lead accumulates in the body, the only way to reduce the risk is to minimize exposure.
In addition to toys, lead has recently been found in other products for children including jewelry, baby bibs, vinyl lunch boxes and clothing. At Consumers Union, we advocate zero tolerance for lead paint on toys. Until that happens, here are five things parents can do on the home front to keep their children safe.
1) TAKE INVENTORY
- To get started, check www.recalls.gov to see if things you own or any hand-me-down items have been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- Conduct frequent sort and toss sessions and discard toys with chipped paint, deteriorated plastic or other broken or damaged parts. When in doubt, throw the toy away.
- Avoid vintage toys and antique furniture that may have been painted with older lead-based paint. If the item is a keepsake or collectible, put it away until your child is older.
2) CLEAN UP
- To avoid lead exposure from sources in the home, keep floors and other play areas clean and free of dust and debris. Wash your children's hands and playthings often.
- Store toys off the floor in a clean place. Wash items that fall on the floor.
- Feed your child a healthy diet rich in iron and calcium. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
- Avoid treating your child with folk remedies, many of which contain lead.
- Serve and store food in lead-free containers such as glass, stainless steel or plastic.
- Wrap food that goes in your child's lunch box. Some children's vinyl lunch boxes have been found to contain lead.
- If you live in a house with lead pipes, running cold water in the faucet for a few minutes and using a water filter can reduce lead levels.
3) BUY SMART
- Avoid no-name products and be careful when you buy items at dollar stores, street fairs, vending machines, thrift stores or yard sales.
- Buy age-appropriate toys. For example, children age 2 are most at risk for putting things in their mouths. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a list of age-appropriate toys on its web site.
- Do not buy jewelry – especially cheap jewelry – for young children. Even if the item does not contain lead – and many pieces of metal jewelry have been recalled for that reason – it can still be a choking hazard.
- Make sure arts and crafts items you buy for your children are non-toxic. Lead has been banned from children's paints but adult artist's paints and ceramic glazes can contain lead and other toxic heavy metals. Look for water-based paints and glues.
4) FIND SUBSTITUTES
- Try to avoid bringing playthings with troubled track records into your home by finding safe alternatives for your child. Board and picture books, unpainted wooden toys, balls, non-toxic paints and crayons and washable stuffed animals are good bets.
- Because all the recently recalled toys were made in China, some parents are seeking toys made in the U.S. or other countries. This can be a challenge as most toys – 80 percent – are made in China. It's also not a guarantee of safety; jewelry containing lead has come from other countries, including India, while children's furniture with lead paint has been imported from Mexico.
5) GET TESTED
- If you are concerned, get your child tested for lead -- especially if you live in a home with paint in poor condition that was built before 1978. Even children who appear healthy may have high levels of lead. A simple blood test can detect lead levels in children and some states require them. Children should have their blood checked at age one and again at two.
- A trained professional – find a list at the National Lead Information Center (800-424-LEAD) – can test for lead in your home using a variety of approved methods. These include visual inspections of paint conditions, lab tests of paint samples, surface dust tests and inspection with a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine.
A WORD ABOUT HOME LEAD TEST KITS
Hardware store lead test kits can be useful in detecting lead paint, but are not always reliable. Parents who do decide to do their own home screening should validate test results for toys of most concern with a professional lab test.
See also: Previous lead-related entries
"Avoid no-name products and be careful when you buy items at dollar stores, street fairs, vending machines, thrift stores or yard sales."
The recent recalls focus on toys from Mattel (Fisher Price, Barbie, etc.), not no-name products. Are no-name toys and products even more unsafe than these from the big names, or is the fact sheet just a generic handout that needs to be updated? Have there been any major recalls recently of no-name toys?
My infant daughter was diagnosed with a high blood lead level at 9 months (11mg/dL) and after extensive investigation of our house, her toys and environment by our county health department, the source of lead exposure was determined to be my brass office key and my brass house key which I let her play with and chew on. Why does none of the literature mention this possible exposure?!!! Practically everyone I know lets their children play with their keys. I work at the University of Notre Dame and all keys issued are unplated brass with a lead content 4.5 times the allowable level if it were a toy or jewelry. I think it is scandalous that the key industry is allowed to shirk this issue and is not required to either plate all keys, use steel stamped keys, or at least make the public aware of this potential hazard! But if they are not required to inform the public, you certainly should!
katrina- who lets their kids play with keys? they are hard, pointy (possible to poke their eyes out with if you think about it), and the kid might possibly swallow the key (and you might lose it too) It's not THAT common (i can't name one really young kid that plays with keys.. and I used to be a child care taker at my church) to let kids under the age of 5 anyways to play and chew on keys (think about all the germs on that thing!) this article doesn't mention it because its not that common of a practice.
With so many China manufactured toys being recalled for lead paint content I was concerned about furniture manufactured in China. Can we assume that no lead finishes are used on furniture or can we conclude that lead is probably as big a problem on furniture as it is on toys. I understand that mirror baking paint from China contians high lead content but that it is not exposed to contact unless the mirror is broken. I was just curious about the furniture, and wondering if furniture is being checked for lead.
With lead all around our children, i have to wonder if it's in the car paint. My brother-in-law is sanding down his entire car, and my daughter (3 yrs.old)was touching it all over. I wasn't home when it happened,she was in my mother-in-laws care, but i am worried that she had put her hands in her mouth without them being washed. So my question is, is there a chance of her getting lead poisoning? Both her and my 7 year old son had been checked for lead poisoning before, and it came out negative. Now i'm going to have to go again because of the carelessness of their grandmother. And also to comment to Katrina, I know you didn't think any harm would come from letting your daughter play with the keys, I know because we did the same thing too. But all I can tell you and every other parent, is that we learn from our mistakes. I'm pretty sure you never did that again, so everyone, please cut her slack. We all make mistakes, and it's only human that we forgive. I will never let my children and my future children play with keys, and it's all thanks to you. So thank you Katrina, i'll learn from your mistake.
p.s. I hope everything turned out okay with your little girl, we hope she's all better. Mother to Mother.
My child's daycare has toys with jingle bells (not sure if this is the proper term) attached. My child is nine months old. Can the bells have lead? Do all metals have lead? If anyone can help answer this, I would appreciate it.
What bothers me the most about this article is the fact that it only states two recalls. If you go to the recall website and/or healthytoys.org, you can see the entire list of recent recalls. It's really hard to trust any of the toy manufacturers without having first checked to ensure they follow strict guidelines to ensure the safety of our children.
My name is Steven Jones, I Have a son that is 9 years old and is autistic. He loves ballons, in a way you can say he is addicted to them.
I am trying to find out if the latex, foil, and maylar ballons contain a dangerous plastic chemical or lead. I need to know if they are dangerous in any way.
I have noticed a very weird smell in some of the latex ones , I have bought in the past.
Can you please assist me, I am very concern for my child
Children should NEVER be allowed to play with balloons. When they pop, tiny pieces of latex can be sucked into the windpipe and suffocate the child before you realize there is a problem. Even CPR is not effective in these cases because the airway is blocked deep inside.
Please be careful.