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Health & Parenting

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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.

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

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.

Safe Toys: Buyer Beware

Experts interviewed by WebMD urge parents to pay careful attention to the CPSC's recall list and follow manufacturers' remedies for replacement or reimbursement.

They also offer the following tips on toys to avoid:

  1. Brightly painted toys (wood, plastic, and metal) made in Pacific Rim countries, particularly China, because of lead paint dangers. Parents may even want to shun brightly colored plastic toys made from molds, which have been a problem in previous years. Children mouthing the toys for extended periods can get lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible neurological damage.
  2. Ceramic or pottery toys manufactured outside the U.S. and Europe, because of lead dangers. If children drink tea from a ceramic tea set, for example, the lead from the ceramic can leach into the tea.
  3. Many products from any countries outside the U.S. and Europe. Mexican pottery and candy, for example, have tested for high levels of lead.
  4. Soft vinyl toys can also contain toxins, including lead.
  5. Toys with small parts can pose a choking hazard for young children. Government regulations specify that toys for children under age 3 cannot have parts less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long.
  6. Pull toys with strings that are more than 12 inches in length, which can be a strangulation hazard for babies.
  7. Magnetic toys, which can be swallowed by young children.
  8. All jewelry, especially metal jewelry, for children of all ages. Many jewelry pieces -- even some marked "lead-free" -- have contained dangerous levels of lead.
  9. Items that contain "phthalates," or toxic chemicals, such as xylene, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and benzene, which can cause health problems in children.
  10. Toys that are not age-appropriate. Toys intended for older children can harm younger ones. And older children who play with toys intended for younger ones can be injured when, out of boredom, they seek unintended uses for the toys.

Experts also caution that parents should pay attention to warning labels, which mean the toy can be dangerous. At the same time, they shouldn't be deceived by manufacturers' labels, which are voluntary and not always factual. This includes labels that say "toxic-free" and "lead-free," among others.

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