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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: Should It Stay or Should It Go? continued...

Ruth Ann Norton is the executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, a nonprofit group based in Baltimore. Her advice about dealing with lead in toys is simple: When in doubt, throw it out. 

Rosen and Norton offer the following recommendations for those with children or grandchildren age 6 and younger:

1.  Discard all brightly painted toys -- whether wooden, plastic or metal -- that have been manufactured in Pacific Rim countries, especially China.  Toys that are particularly risky are those where the paint can be peeled or chipped off, and those that can be easily mouthed by young children.

2.  Discard all ceramic or pottery toys manufactured outside the U.S., especially those made in China, India, and Mexico.

3.  Remove all metal jewelry from children immediately.  If the jewelry has special significance, parents can have it tested.  The CPSC provides a list of laboratories that will test products.  Parents can also speak to their local health department.

4.  Buy only soy-based crayons.  Although lead-filled crayons have not been the subject of a recall since 1996, in rare cases children have been poisoned by eating them.  And, as with toys, "nontoxic" labels are not an assurance that a product -- especially one made in China -- adhere to U.S. safety standards. 

5.  Take caution when exposing children to other items known to contain lead.  These include imported vinyl mini-blinds made before 1997, vinyl bibs, vinyl backpacks, canvas lunch boxes (especially those with metallic linings), car keys, children's chalk, pool chalk, Mexican candies, Mexican home remedies, and all pottery and ceramics manufactured outside the U.S.

Items generally considered safe to keep include:

1.  All toys manufactured in North America and the European Union.

2.  Books, DVDs, and CDs.

3.  Most plush toys, although two (Curious George Plush Dolls and Baby Einstein Color Blocks) have recently been recalled for excessive lead, so parents should carefully weigh the risks.

Lead in Toys: To Test or Not to Test?

Rather than throwing caution -- and all of their kid's toys -- to the wind, many parents are turning to home-testing kits.  Experts warn, however, that they can be extremely unreliable. 

Consumer Reports tested five.  Of those, they determined that three were "useful though limited."  Because the kits detect only surface, or "accessible," lead, they are ineffective for toys that contain lead embedded below the surface.  In most cases, however, a positive result means parents should discard the item.

The CPSC recently came to the same conclusion.  The agency performed 104 tests using two different brands of home lead-test kits.  Half (56) inaccurately indicated that contaminated products were safe. Two test results came up positive when no lead was present.

"Based on the study, consumers should not use lead test kits to evaluate consumer products for potential lead hazards," the agency advised in an official statement.

For the most accurate results, parents should send suspect items to a lab or visit their county health department.

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