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Buying Safe Toys for the Holidays

With so many toy recalls, what's a parent to do? WebMD talked to experts who offered their advice.
By Annabelle Robertson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

At a time when children are compiling their holiday wish lists, parents are fretting over another one: the safe toy list.

Barbie.  Batman.  Dora.  Razor Scooters.  Thomas the Tank Engine.  All top contenders for space under the Christmas tree -- until they hit the toy recall list for safety violations.  The dangers range from lead paint and choking hazards to faulty construction.

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), toy-related injuries sent almost 73,000 children under the age of 5 to emergency rooms in 2005. Twenty children also died from toy-related injuries that same year.

More than 170 million units of jewelry -- most made in China and marketed to children in this country -- have been recalled since 2004, according to Scott Wolfson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  And 31.7 million other units of toys were recalled during the past 14 months.

''For many parents, the more immediate concern is which toys could -- or should -- be recalled that are still sitting on shelves, waiting to be purchased. Several consumer interest groups such as PIRG have found that while most toys on store shelves are safe, some still pose hazards. Among the dangers: lead paint, choking and strangulation hazards, magnets, toys that are too loud, and those containing other toxic chemicals.

Safe Toys: Not Just Lead -- and Not Just From China

The situation has many parents asking where they can find safe toys this holiday season.

"I'm kind of worried about the lead paint," says Blair Comacho, 25, a Southern California resident and mother of two. "We had several of the things that were recalled. I had to throw them out."

Camacho, whose children are 4 and 22 months of age, said she isn't buying anything made in China.

"I'm not even going into the stores. I'm probably going to find a 'Made in America' web site," she says.

John F. Rosen, MD, a professor of pediatrics and childhood lead poisoning specialist at Montefiore Children's Hospital in New York, says that it's not who makes the toys that matters.  It's where they are manufactured.

"Where it's made is critical," he says.  "There are safe toys made in the U.S. and the European Union."

Wolfson wants parents to understand that the dangers aren't just limited to lead poisoning, however -- or toys made in China.

Magnets are an especially urgent concern for Wolfson because of their immediate, life-threatening danger -- and because they're so popular.

If a child swallows more than one magnet, they can fuse in the intestine, causing a blockage that usually requires surgery. "If doctors do not take an X-ray quickly enough and see that there is a need for surgery, you have a very, very, very serious health emergency that often results in death," Wolfson says.

The magnet problem is not limited to young children. Ten of the 22 cases brought to the attention of the CPSC involved children aged 6 to 11.

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