Friday, September 07, 2007

Are My Toys Safe??? The Facts & What You Should Do

Nothing scares parents quite as much as the phrase “lead paint in toys.” And over the past months, the media has had a field day with reports of recalls. What is particularly repellent in all of this is the wilful ignorance that much of the mainstream media is taking to this.

I've got to say I'm pretty sick of "investigative" TV reporters shoving microphone in people's faces and asking, "How do you fell about toy companies poisoning your children?" This flawed bit of journalism is called the "reaction" story, or "reax," and it is used to find a local angle to any story (print or broadcast) and boost viewership. It's not responsible journalism. It scares people, and while it makes for sensationalism and an emotional respone to something, it obscures facts and frightens people unnecessarily.

Oh, and did you hear about that woman from Colorado who put all her Mattel toys in her car and drove them to Mattel headquarters to be tested? Oh, and she happened to alert the local media that she was doing it. Seems that even our children's safety isn't as important as getting one's 15 minutes of fame.

Now, since 1978, lead paint in toys has been illegal.

So, there’s no excuse for it to show up…ever. There simply is no excuse for it, and toymakers have, very responsibly, been recalling toys that have been found to have lead in them. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission posts recalls to its Web site every week. Most people give them a passing notice, if at all. The problem, of course, came when the world’s largest toy company, Mattel, was involved in a recall. The media had a field day with it. Parents got scared, and there was a big move to avoid any toys made in China.

It’s certainly understandable that people would be scared and nervous about lead exposure, and while the dangers of exposure to toxic levels of lead are well established, the reality is somewhat different. Again, this is not to excuse the presence of lead in paint; it’s illegal. But aside from responding to any recall and making sure that toys are played with appropriately, prudence, not panic should be the watchword.

What’s Lead Poisoning, Anyway?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead must be ingested either in solid form, or sometimes inhaled in powdered form, where paint dust has been allowed to form. By far, children’s most likely exposure to lead comes from old house paint, applied before 1978. Simply touching something with lead paint will not transfer the lead. (When a child is repeatedly going from hand to mouth, there would be a slight chance of transference, if the paint were loosened.)

The CDC defines lead poisoning as a level above 10 micrograms per milliliter of lead in blood. (Incidentally in 1990, that was only a “level of concern.”) Today, children have an average of only 2.3 mcg/ml, so it’s not likely that casual exposure can have any real risk—though, as we keep repeating, no lead is allowed, which is why the recalls have happened.

If you had children before 1978, they were undoubtedly exposed to much greater quantities of lead. And before 1980, lead was allowed in gasoline, so many of us breathed the fumes. My father, who was born in 1923, has wonderful memories of his toy soldier making kit…which required him to melt and pour lead.

Well, we know more know, and that’s a good thing, so the best is to err on the side of caution.

Moreover, the problem with lead is from ingesting it. That means, you would have to eat it in signficant amount or inhale dust. Quite frankly, while they acknowledge that it's illegal, the doctors we've spoken to are more concerned with marbles and balloons than lead.

Your children are going to be more exposed to lead through their iPods and cellphones that don't have the same standards than anything else.

And What About Magnets?

Magnets, the other major concern in toy recalls right now, are a danger—when two or more are ingested. The magnets can attract and close off vital parts, leading to illness. Toys have been recalled due to design flaws that allowed magnets to be removed from the toy. Those have been rectified, and there is now what’s called “redundancy” in the manufacturing, which allows magnets to be doubly locked into place on the toys.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Here are some tips that can help ensure that the toys you buy for your kids are safe.

1. Assume they’re safe. The problems with China have been systemic with the manufacturing, not a result of their being made in China—no matter what anyone says. Toys undergo extensive testing because toymakers, quite naturally, depend on the safety of their customers as part of their brands’ perception.
2. Check toys. If a toy is old or worn or has paint chipping off it, or has loose parts, take it away. Whether the paint has lead or not, the last thing we want is kids ingesting it. We all know that kids can be hard on their toys, so checking them regularly for signs of wear is a good idea.
3. Choose age appropriate toys. Virtually all of the toy related injuries that have been reported happen when children who are too young for a specific toy play with it. For instance, if you have older children in the house, their younger siblings may be attracted to their toys. What is perfectly appropriate for a child over 4 may pose a small parts hazard for a child up to 3.
4. Pick up your toys. Or, get kids to pick them up. The top toy-related injury is the result of people tripping over them. We don’t want to be glib, but it can be a real problem.
5. Focus on real dangers, like small parts. Over the past 15 years or so, toymakers have conscientiously focused on such things as small parts and age appropriateness. Be aware of such toys as marbles and balloons. These are the toys that young children are most likely to put in their mouths.
6. Supervise play. Particularly for the youngest kids, this is important. An accident can happen in a second, and kids can be quick and do unexpected things. If you don’t want to be in charge of the youngest kids, it’s perfectly okay to say no.

Of course, toy safety is a huge concern, and you want to be sure that your kids and grandkids are safe. But it’s also a good idea to temper your concern with common sense.

Toys sold in the U.S. are subject to the highest safety standards, and this new concern will only mean that as standards get even more strict, and enforcement is monitored even more closely that toys will only get safer in the future. And, if there is a bright spot in the recent concern, that’s probably it.



Anonymous said...


I'm a plastic injection molder in Orlando, FL (I know, not many of us left down here)

We used to make pet toys, but lost that business when the brand shifted to Asia 7-8 years ago.

I hope you'll point me towards some toy companies who need domestic plastic manufacturing?



Andrew Sellers, President
Arborguy Supply Corp.
Quest Plastics and Product Works
(866) ARBORS-1
(352) 636-6446 mobile
(352) 483-9566 fax

Educational toys said...

I think what is better for you to do is to watch over your kid while playing or if you're busy, have someone to watch over your kid...

John said...

I feel bad for the people who are loosing jobs on this issue but we have take preventive steps for the manufacturing of big toys so as to prevent the future issues on toys