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