Choosing Safe Toys Through Age 5 this Shopping Season

‘Tis the season to shop for toys, but this year, as parents search for that coveted object guaranteed to light a child’s face with joy, they also will probably be paying more attention to where that toy was manufactured and whether it appears to be safe.

Recent recalls of lead-tainted toys manufactured in China have parents on alert at the height of toy-shopping season, but local experts say toy safety is something parents should keep in mind at all times, particularly when shopping for young children.

“It’s always important to read the label if you have children under the age of 3 who are most likely to be mouthing toys,” says Jackie Quirk, project coordinator for N.C. Child Care Health and Safety Resource Center. She stresses that hand washing is a good idea, both to prevent the spread of germs and to cut down on hand-to-mouth spread of potential toxins from toys.

Since recalls are ongoing, Quirk recommends checking the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s list of recently recalled items at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html. The link includes instructions on signing up for regular e-mail alerts of new recalls. Another link, www.recalls.gov, is a one-stop site for recalls in a variety of venues, including food, medicine and consumer products.

Quirk says the December bulletin from the child safety resource center will include information on recent recalls, which are especially noteworthy for parents because popular toys such as Thomas and Friends wooden trains, Polly Pocket dolls, Barbie accessories and Magnetix magnets are among those recalled.

In September, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced an agreement with its product safety counterparts in the Chinese government aimed at stopping the use of lead paint in the toy manufacturing process. Lead paint on toys sold in the United States has been banned since 1978.

While much of the recent toy recall focus has been on lead paint, small magnets in toys also have caused serious problems. CPSC received a report of an 8-year-old girl who was hospitalized after swallowing loose magnets. Extensive surgery was required to remove the magnets and repair intestinal perforations.

Buy Appropriate Toys

Like the Magnetix magnets, many toys do not pose a danger to children as long as they are played with in an appropriate and safe manner. One of the best ways to ensure safety is to check age labels on toys and only buy toys that are suitable for your child’s age.

In addition, Quirk suggests buyers check for the following:
* That a toy is not easily broken.
* That a toy is shatter-proof.
* That a toy is not on a list of items recalled due to lead paint.

Quirk also does not favor electric toys for toddlers, but understands that some children with disabilities enjoy the action of these toys.

Stores Take Safety Measures

Toy stores are aware of recalls and are taking measures to ensure their merchandise is safe for consumers. Donna Frederick, manager of The Playhouse Toy Store in Durham, says stores have varying approaches to the recall issue depending on their vendors. Since Frederick’s store uses small vendors, toy production is typically more controlled, she says.

The Playhouse has posted a list of recalled items in the store and has been more diligent this year about researching vendor testing policies, Frederick notes. In business for 21 years, the store has strong community ties and has been proactive regarding toy recalls.

“We are always involved in community outreach, and what we are doing this year is going to mother’s groups and speaking so they can ask questions about it,” Frederick says. She advises parents to use common sense this holiday shopping season. Be sure to check recall updates and buy quality toys, she says.

Secondhand stores also are on alert this year. Sandra Wisnoski, an employee at the Children’s Orchard in Cary, says the store is keeping tabs on recalled items this year and using lead test kits to examine questionable toys. Children’s Orchard is a national chain that sells gently used children’s items.

But the best advice from the experts for this season is to stay abreast of the recalls, read the labels and, above all, watch how your children play with their toys. “The truth is, with all the safeguards in place, supervision is still the most important thing to make sure the toy is being properly used,” Quirk says.

Carol McGarrahan is a Cary-based freelance writer and frequent contributor.

Lead Limits

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that sustained blood lead levels above 10 micrograms/deciliter (ug/dl) are a health concern. To prevent young children from exceeding this level, CPSC suggests that chronic ingestion (represented as 15 to 30 days) of lead from paint, etc., not exceed 15 micrograms of lead per day.

Young children are most commonly exposed to lead from handling a toxic object and then placing hands or fingers in the mouth. The adverse health effects of lead poisoning in children include neurological damage, delayed mental and physical development, attention and learning deficiencies, and hearing problems.

You can find photos and descriptions of recalled toys at www.cpsc.gov, or call 800-638-2772.