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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: 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.

Safe Toys: Widely Available

The good news is that plenty of safe toys are widely available both here and abroad.

You can find a list of companies that report selling American-made toys and products at toysmadeinamerica. This site provides 136 links to toy companies, many of which are small, family-owned businesses.  Some are eco-friendly as well.

For information about buying other products reported to be made in America, visit www.howtobuyamerican.com.

For a self-reported list of products made in Europe, visit www.moolka.com or www.maukilo.com, two online retailers that boast an extensive selection of European-made products for children of all ages, including a variety of jewelry.

Fun suggestions for older kids include acoustic guitars and instruments, scooters, and a wide selection of purses, bags, and wallets.

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