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Lead in Toys: Could It Be Lurking in Your Home?

While many dangerous toys have been recalled, lead has been found in some that haven't made any recall list. Here's what you need to know.

Lead in Toys: Effects of Lead Poisoning

John F. Rosen, a nationally recognized lead poisoning specialist, is angered that hazardous toys and jewelry continue to be sold to children.

"I've seen the devastating effects of lead and it's horrible," says Rosen, professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.  Rosen has treated more than 30,000 childhood victims of lead poisoning.  "It's horrible and it shouldn't happen."

Although most lead poisoning has no obvious, immediate symptoms, it can affect a child's brain, nervous system, heart, and red blood cells.  In extreme cases, it causes seizures, comas, and death. 

A recently published study from Cornell University showed that very small amounts of lead in children's blood -- amounts below the current federal standard of 10 mcg/dL -- are associated with reduced IQ scores at 6 years of age.  The CDC recently confirmed that children with lead levels of less than 10 mcg/dL can suffer lowered IQ, speech delays, hearing loss, learning disabilities, slowed or reduced growth, and behavioral difficulties that range from hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder to violence and aggression. 

According to the Cornell study, approximately one out of every 50 children in the U.S. between ages 1 and 5 has a blood lead level above 10 mcg/dL.  Still, CDC figures show that the number of young children with lead levels of 10 mcg/dL or greater has steadily decreased since lead point was banned.

Public health advocates argue that any amount of lead poisoning is unacceptable. "The bottom line," says Richard Canfield, senior researcher in Cornell's division of nutritional sciences and senior author of the study, "is that lead is a persistent neurotoxin that causes brain damage. The fact that lead has been found in millions of toys, even toys specifically designed for children to put into their mouths, presents an unacceptable risk."

Lead in Toys: Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Keeping track of the mounting recalls can be daunting.

Joan Lawrence, a spokesman for the Toy Industry of America (TIA), recommends that parents take time to scrutinize the CPSC recall list at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html and then return or discard any items deemed unsafe.  Parents should also sign up for email alerts from CPSC about future recalls.  For additional safety tips and consumer safety advice, as well as current information about recalled toys, consumers can call the TIA's toll-free hotline or visit their web site at  www.toyinfo.org.

The question many parents are asking, however, is not about recalled toys.  It's what to do with all the toys sitting at home that haven't been recalled, but should be.

It's a legitimate concern. Although Rosen is hesitant to quantify possible exposure dangers from lead in toys, he believes that even one month of hand-to-mouth activity with a toy with lead is enough to create elevated blood lead levels.  Jewelry, he says, is an even bigger risk. 

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