When Eleilia Preston gave birth to her first child, the last thing she
worried about was lead in toys.
The stay-at-home mom, who describes herself as "over-the-edge
careful," made sure that little Megan was always within eyesight. She
documented each bite her daughter ate and washed all her toys, several times a
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That's why Preston, 29, was so shocked when doctors diagnosed the toddler
with lead poisoning.
At 21 months, Megan far exceeded every developmental milestone for her age
group. She spoke in sentences. She knew her colors. She could count
to 20. But then, over a period of just a few weeks, Megan suddenly
"She would follow orders but wouldn't speak," Preston says. "Her
speech kept getting worse and worse. I was frantic."
Fortunately, the Prestons had moved to New York, a state that requires
mandatory blood lead testing of children at both 12 and 24 months of age.
Megan's level came back at 26 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) -- a number
that doctors consider extremely dangerous for young children. A second
test, performed two weeks later at Preston's insistence, showed a blood lead
level of 32 mcg/dL.
According to Preston, health officials determined that the source of Megan's
poisoning was crayons she had been eating.
Lead in Toys: Toys Still on Shelves
Most lead poisoning in this country is caused by lead-based paint.
Although banned in 1978, it continues to be a hazard in 25% of U.S. homes with
kids under age 6. However, about 30% of the childhood lead poison cases
followed by the CDC are not caused by paint. Many experts believe that
the culprit is lead in toys and jewelry.
In 2006, a 4-year-old Minneapolis boy died after swallowing a trinket made
by Reebok, which contained more than 90% lead. The incident brought to
light the fact that many American toy companies have been violating federal
safety standards for almost 30 years, according to Scott Wolfson of the U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The death also paved the way for the growing list of recalls which continues
to plague parents today.
During the past 14 months, the CPSC has overseen 31.7 million voluntary
recalls, of which nearly 4 million were due to excessive lead in toys.
The overwhelming majority of those toys were made in China, which manufactures
80% of the toys sold in this country.
Jewelry, also frequently made in China, has been the target of even more
recalls. Since 2004, manufacturers have recalled more than 45 jewelry
products involving 170 million units due to excessive lead. Even
non-recalled jewelry, however -- including some labeled "lead-free" --
has proven to be dangerous.
The New York Times, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG),
Consumer Reports, and the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., all
recently found that dangerous products for children are still widely
available. The Ecology Center has compiled a database of more than 1,200
toys it tested for lead and other dangerous chemicals at
"What we're seeing are far too many companies who have let down the bar
or who fail to do quality assurance through their contractors and
subcontractors," says Wolfson. "That's where the breakdown has
Wolfson says that while the recalls are far from over, parents need not
panic because the majority of toys in the U.S. are safe.
"We have billions of toys being brought into the marketplace each
year," he says, "and we are going to capture all the toys that need to
be recalled. Hope is on the way in 2008."