My First Public Rant (Awww! How Cute!!)

By , December 12, 2007 10:43 pm

Does anyone else find it odd that there has been only one lead paint-related toy recall since Curious George on November 8?

Yesterday I was finally sorting through my children’s toy cars and trying to weed out those that appeared to be unbranded, cheap Dollar Store cars after I heard this on NPR. It occurred to me that after the recent flurry of lead paint recalls, now, during the busiest toy shopping season of the year, the recalls appear to have stopped. A coincidence? I think not. But then I tend to be cynical at times.

I know that the “branded” cars probably have as much chance of containing lead paint as the cheaper anonymous variety, after all, every single one of ours was made in China. It angered me that I felt compelled to sort through the cars. I felt helpless at the thought of all the cars that I chose not to take away, knowing that they quite likely could contain lead paint also.

Should I get rid of all my children’s cars? Should I eliminate all toys and give the children cardboard boxes and organic vegetables as toys instead? Do I need to buy a home lead test kit?

The non-profit Consumers Union tested five home kits and recommends three of them: Abotex Lead Inspector Kit , Homax Lead Check, and the Lead Check Household Lead Test Kit. I can’t imagine testing all our toys for the presence of lead paint! Have any of you done this? If so, what were your findings?

Another point to consider if you do want to give this a try at home: these kits only test the surface paint. You can check what is underneath, but to do that you must first chip away the surface paint. Apparently the lead paint is only harmful if it is ingested, so underlying paint theoretically is OK as long as your child does not bite through or scratch/wear off the surface paint.

Is it all OK then? No!! I, like most of you, of course don’t even want UNDERLYING lead paint in my house. But what a monumental task testing it all!! Every little bit and piece. Every accessory. Just because one item in a play set is OK, doesn’t mean they all are.

Think about it. If it would be hard for you to personally thoroughly test all your household toys, how is it for THE SINGLE INSPECTOR assigned to test the millions of toys that enter the US each year! (See also: Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes, New York Times, September 2, 2007). While you’re at it, check out the photo of the CPSC impact testing “lab” here.

And what does one do with suspicious or positively proven lead-based toys? Donate them so that poor children who’s toys all must come from thrift stores are the ones being poisoned? Throw them away to pollute landfills? Put them in a box in the attic?

I am also angry about phthalates. I learned in this NPR Fresh Air interview that phthalates (chemicals used to make plastic soft and pliable) are banned in Europe. European toys and products contain a non-toxic, yet equally as effective and reasonably costing substitute. Apparently author Mark Schapiro (the interviewee) claims in his book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power (which I have not read), that Chinese factories sometimes produce the EXACT SAME TOY with the phthalates for the US market and use the substitute chemical for the Europeans! According to Mr. Schapiro, toys containing phthalates that are confiscated and refused by European customs officials are returned to China and routinely then shipped to the US.

I don’t usually get too worked up over every little scandal. Of course if you feed a lab rat seventeen times its weight of any substance in a single day it will most likely not fare well. The media love making huge mountains out of “the latest study” and then we never hear about it again. Unfounded and exaggerated internet rumors abound and I do not wish my blog to contribute to their perpetuation. But this toy crisis strikes me as a real cause for concern.

Not that I wish to publicly assign myself a vintage, but I was born in the 1960′s and played with toys through the late ’60′s and ’70′s. Who knows what manner of unknown poisons I was exposed to and I have apparently survived relatively intact (so far anyway). But the difference is that now we have knowledge of these harmful substances and yet we continue to use them in our children’s toys. Babies, children, and young adults, whose brains are continuously developing well into the 20′s, are exposed to known toxins in their toys!

OK, I’d better stop here or this rant will turn really ugly. If you have the stomach for it, here are the links to the stories that set me off:

NPR: Testing Toys for Lead (December 6th)
NPR’s Fresh Air: Mark Shapiro – Exposing a Toxic US Policy (November 26th)

Also:

You have got to take a few minutes and watch this parody cartoon from Consumers Union that helps explain the toy problem:

Not in My Cart

(Via this link, if you wish, you can also send an email letter to your local Senators in support of S. 2045, The Consumer Product Safety Reform Act of 2007.)

If you are interested in putting links on your blog to the Consumers Union’s campaigns, including the promotion of toy safety, then you can click here to access their Blog Tool Kit.

And finally, here is a list of 12 Toy Shopping Tips for a Safer Holiday from Consumer Reports.

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17 Responses to “My First Public Rant (Awww! How Cute!!)”

  1. Lizz says:

    Rant away…I hear ya, it makes my head spin.

    Am I becoming a purist in response to this and many more things of our modern times? Yes, I am, and it’s my job as the mom here to do this very thing. Do I loose sleep over it? No, I don’t, I just go ahead every day and try to make smart choices for my offspring.

    Thank you for this!

    [Reply]

  2. http://www.andamom.com says:

    I consider myself to be a good caring mom. My goal is to raise healthy kids who are well adjusted — yadda yadda yadda. The point is, I wouldn’t intentionally hurt my children and I do everything in my power to ensure that I take precautions.

    Personally, I don’t buy into this huge toy conspiracy. I don’t doubt that there are problems — but realistically, if we get down to it, the kids are exposed to any number of other chemicals via their clothing, household appliances, the building materials in their home/schools/library/other places they travel, art supplies, foods, and beyond. Really, we as parents cannot protect our children from everything. It isn’t that we shouldn’t try – but we should be realistic.

    I am more concerned about some other issues…
    -global warming and what the world my children live in will be like in 50 years… pollution, clean water, elevated sea levels, increasing numbers of extinct species, a depleted ozone layer that allows in greater amounts of rays, radiation from toxins, etc.

    -the global world and ensuring that my children can compete with children from other countries who are receiving better foreign language, math, and science instruction

    -health care scares – like AIDS, avian flu, ebola, malaria, West Nile, etc. I have friends who decided to not vaccinate their children too because they are scared of the repercussions of doing so — and think about the fact that if enough people do that we can have an outbreak of a disease we thought was eradicated from the US.

    And on and on… Again, I do the best job I can to help my kids be the best they can be… and I try to help others so that all of us can live in a better world tomorrow. Attacking the Chinese for toys is not going to fix this problem because there are socio-economic factors at work in China that cause people and companies there to produce goods that we feel are sub-par. It all ties in together too because China has some of the most polluted rivers in the world, the largest population with consumers itself that have a demand (via traditional medicine) that are responsible for the extermination of rare species, and one of the largest militaries in the world that the US or any W. European nation would never consider going to war with — While diplomacy between two cultures that don’t see eye to eye is difficult, we need to work to understand ‘why’ before we can work on fixing the toy issue.

    [Reply]

  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    Hi Jules (andamom.com),

    Thank you for that interesting and well thought-out comment!

    I must say that I mostly agree with you. In fact I almost didn’t write this post because I don’t believe in the “great toy conspiracy” either. China and the politicians are not out to get us. Yet I do feel that there are quite likely some political reasons behind the toy recalls (or rather, the recent lack thereof).

    Is lead in toys the biggest problem that we face right now? No. (I only wish it was!) Do I think that my children will suffer brain damage from playing with their toys, even those that do contain some lead paint? No. Honestly, my two year-old is far more likely to injure herself with a pair of scissors that I have left carelessly lying around the house.

    I also agree that there are serious political and socio-economic realities at play in China (and the US) that lead to the production and importation into the US of sub-par toys.

    However, if it is true that the same Chinese factory a can produce the same toy using two different ingredients for two different markets (ie. phthalates), then some degree of positive change must be possible without too much difficulty.

    I guess what really bothers me is the fact that we can send people into space, save lives, cure disease, create very advanced technological innovations, and yet the world is still a place where our children come into contact with known toxins.

    Of course the majority of the world’s children face far greater health risks on a daily basis. That is true. The scale of the lead issue is very small compared to the problems confronting most of the world’s children. You are right that we must keep it in perspective.

    And you are also right that we can’t protect our children from everything, nor do I believe that we should try. We must raise children who can be self-sufficient and constantly hovering over them will not lead to self-sufficiency. My friend and I joke that we are “slacker Moms” in that way.

    I guess I mentally add the lead toy affair to my list of disheartening and upsetting world problems. Of course global warming, poverty, hunger, pollution, extinctions, war, human cruelty, etc. etc. etc. are far more serious and wide-spread. I guess the difference (for better or for worse) is that this little issue just happens to be a modern-day problem that has appeared in my own living room.

    Thanks again for the truly wonderful comment!

    [Reply]

  4. Kate in NJ says:

    I am on the waiting list for this book at our library, I know it will only make me feel more helpless..should I toss all her toys?
    Maybe I should…very scary.
    I do buy into the conspiracy theory.
    How many US owned companies have written the laws that make it ok for them to poison us? It’s not only the “cheap toys” either…these people are making tons of money poisoning our kids intentionally..ok enough of my rant. :-)

    [Reply]

  5. jasi says:

    I think a lot of problems we face today, in the world of contaminants, have much to do with volume.

    We purchase, consume and throw out more goods than generations before. In my childhood, I’m certain I was exposed to terrible paints- fumes, chips and all. But I had half as many toys as my child, everyone did.

    I think a good way to protect ourselves, our children and our world is to buy less.

    That’s it.

    Each purchase should be well thought out, appreciated and properly recycled when through.

    And there’s no better way to bring about change these days than speaking out with your dollar. Let’s all stop buying crap.

    [Reply]

  6. Nutmeg says:

    I too am concerned about the lead paint and pthalate issue but this is NOT new. It just seems like it because it has been getting a lot of attention right now. If you subscribe to Mothering magazine, you know that these issues, particularly the pthalate problem, have been going on for a long time now and pretty much NOTHING has been done about them.

    I have 3 kids, ages 10, 8 and 5 months. I am positive that my 10 year old and my 8 year old have gnawed the heck out of some lead-based trucksand some lovely pthalate-laced plastic chewies. There’s not much I can do about that. I was 10 years younger and new to this whole parenting gig. And not savvy enough to know about such things.

    This third time around, however, I am more mature, more aware, and much more concerned. I am also much more calm. Being a third time parent, I don’t jump off the handle at every little bump, scrape, cry, or whine. But I am going to do what I can to keep from getting my kids exposed to this nastiness, especially Numero Tres who is at prime age for gobbling on anything she can get her hands on, including her hands.

    So … what can we do to calmly, coolly and SMARTLY react to this problem? We can not buy this crap. We can talk to our kids (at least the ones old enough to understand) about the reasons we’re not buying this crap. We can write our legislators. We can educate other moms, child care providers, schools, and others.

    What we can’t do is just sit there and be mad and feel helpless.

    [Reply]

  7. Mom Unplugged says:

    Hi Nutmeg,

    You are right. Calm and smart is the way to handle it. I think that would be a great idea for a post: CONSTRUCTIVE ways to approach this as opposed to being emotional!

    Personally choosing to buy good quality products and buying less (thank you for that one Jasi!), combined with action and education is definitely more constructive than whining.

    Unfortunately “good toys” cost more which make it harder for some to afford them. But by buying fewer toys, as Jasi suggests, might enable people to buy better quality. Plus, as these toys become more mainstream (and maybe they will now?), perhaps prices will go down a bit.

    Thank for your input Kate, Jasi and Nutmeg. (And welcome to my blog Jasi!)

    [Reply]

  8. Holly says:

    When I was a kid the paint on the exterior of our house was always peeling, and we used to love to pick at it. We’d chip away at it and release metallic looking dust. We’d rub it into our fingers. I remember my mom telling us not to touch it – not because she was concerned about the lead, but because she didn’t want the house looking any worse than it already did. This was early 1980′s, but the house was of course much older. My brother and I both turned out fine – high SAT scores and everything, and I’m sure no toy could be as toxic as that peeling house paint!

    So, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. But YES, it makes me angry that our government does so little to protect us – especially when there are such simple, economically viable solutions available. Really, there’s no excuse for that. I’m living in France right now, and there’s a ban here on GMO’s. In the US, foods containing GMO’s don’t even have to be labeled as such! It’s ridiculous.

    And, for the record, I support any and all ranting where the health and safety of our kids is involved. It’s like that bumper sticker – If you’re not (ranting) you’re not paying attention!

    [Reply]

  9. Woodmouse says:

    I love your rants, actually, very informative…although in my case you are preaching to the choir and only adding fuel to my fire.

    A good friend of mine worked as a rep for an overseas manufacturing company that explained that phthalates are MUCH cheaper to produce so it was used in plastic toys. When the EU banned phthalates the company had to charge nearly twice as much to the EU distributors so they dropped their account…and said friend lost her job and moved back to the states.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, the “big toy conspiracy” is all about money, which is what most so called conspiracies are about. Nobody is trying to hurt our kids. They are trying to make money.

    Just like those Halloween items got recalled after Halloween I think we’ll see a whole slew of recalls after Christmas is over. Convenient.

    Oh yeah you asked about lead test kits. I tested a few items, like a vintage xylophone that I had when I was a kid. Lead. The fact that I had it as a kid made me feel better though. It is tough not to panic and just throw everything questionable away, but if you care about these issues then just make a pact that from now on everything coming in has to be carefully selected.

    The “fewer and higher quality” concept is something I’ve been drilling into my extended family since day one. It hasn’t worked yet though.

    [Reply]

  10. NutMeg says:

    I mentioned earlier Mothering magazine and its history of reporting on pthalates. If you want more info go here: http://www.mothering.com.

    Also, I want to invite any of you to check out my new blog at:
    http://nutmegmom.blogspot.com/. I hope to see you there!

    [Reply]

  11. greenemother says:

    Oh, I’ve already deleted my comment to you twice because it was getting way too long and then I also started ranting away~! You have hit such a powerful subject for me! We don’t have plastic toys in our house. My husband had cancer when he was 21 and since then we have tried to really watch what we eat and what my daughter plays with/puts in her mouth. It’s really hard sometimes because of family. I seem, since having a child, to be such a rebel when it comes to her toys and food, but I don’t ever want her to go through what my husband went through. To me, plastic toys or chemicals in general, just aren’t worth it. All of my household cleaning products are all safe and if I can’t my whites as white as they should be, oh well! I agree exactly with what Lizz said. I also make choices that I think will be the most benefical for my beautiful daughter.

    [Reply]

  12. Jenny says:

    I’m not sure that I have anything new to add here, but I wanted to add my voice to other outraged ones here. I think the most disturbing part of it all to me is that it seems to come down to one thing- money. If we had real penalties for putting lead paint (and whatever else) in toys, then the companies wouldn’t do it. As it is, it’s cheaper for them to roll the dice and do what they’ve been doing. Makes me want to move to Europe!

    [Reply]

  13. Nina says:

    I heard that story on NPR. I go through our toys almost daily. My oldest isn’t fond of any one toy so eliminating them is not really a problem. It is replacing these toys and finding suitable toys in the future that annoys me. My ds puts everything in his mouth (that is when he isn’t trying to scale the counter tops!) Also, what about all the toys from the past. I am sure no one is testing old “Little people” figures. We have so many of those and play with them all the time. Must I really replace them all with wooden ones.

    Great post and wonderful links. I’m not going to test anything. I am going to assume it is all suspect and keep it away from my kids.

    [Reply]

  14. CA Momma says:

    Great Post and thanks for the links. Love your Rant!

    [Reply]

  15. [...] you all for your great thoughts and opinions on Wednesday’s post. It is amazing to me to be able to have a discussion with intelligent and concerned fellow humans [...]

  16. [...] you all for your great thoughts and opinions on Wednesday’s post. It is amazing to me to be able to have a discussion with intelligent and concerned fellow humans [...]

  17. [...] of all of us engaging in our usual collective grumble about unsafe toys, poor environmental practices, and the like, here is a chance to get productive [...]

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