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7. Play it safe with toys. Lead in toys and jewelry is a serious issue that continues to pose a threat to kids. About 30% of childhood lead poisoning cases tracked by the CDC are not believed to be caused by wall paint, but by lead in toys and jewelry. In 2006-2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled more than 31 million toys; of those, the cause was excessive lead in 4 million toys. 

The majority of those recalled toys were made in China. Even more jewelry (mostly made in China) has been recalled, including 170 million pieces due to excessive lead.

Soft plastic toys, pacifiers, and teethers should also be considered carefully. The chemicals in soft plastics (phthalates) are possible human carcinogens. Phthalates disrupt hormones in animals, and have been linked to birth defects, breast cancer, and other health problems.

Stiffer standards regarding lead and phthalates in children's products will go into effect in February 2009, thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. That law applies to children's products regardless of where they were manufactured.

However, lead-painted and plastic toys -- trains, dolls, and others -- are still widely available on the market -- especially the Internet. 

The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning advises:

  • 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 are easily mouthed by young children.
  • Discard all ceramic or pottery toys manufactured outside the U.S., especially those made in China, India, and Mexico.
  • Remove all metal jewelry from children.
  • Buy only soy-based crayons. Other crayons may contain lead. Don't just rely on a "nontoxic" label.

Safer toys include:

  • Those manufactured in North America and the European Union.
  • Books, DVDs, and CDs.
  • Most plush toys, although two have been recalled for excessive lead.
  • Those made of solid wood (unfinished or with a nontoxic finish), organic cotton, wool, or hemp.

Pacifiers and teethers:

  • Choose silicone nipples over rubber (which break down faster and can hide bacteria). Silicone nipples are clear and can be safely put in a dishwasher.
  • Try natural wooden or organic cloth teethers.

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