How to Tell if Lead Is in Toys

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Toy army soldiers were made out of painted lead before they were made out of plastic
Toy army soldiers were made out of painted lead before they were made out of plastic (Image: miniature model army image by Jon Barnes from Fotolia.com)

Lead content in toys is a serious concern for parents, children and health care providers alike. There is no safe level of lead exposure and toxic effects from lead in toys and from other sources are cumulative. The liver and kidneys are unable to remove lead from the body, and it ends up being stored in bones and organs, causing neurological damage over time. Children are especially vulnerable, since they are prone to chew on their toys--helping lead enter the body quickly through the bloodstream. A child's low body weight causes even a slight lead exposure to have greater impact. Acute lead poisoning can cause lethargy, ataxia, seizures and coma, but the vast majority of cases have no overt symptoms. The best protection against lead exposure from toys is knowing the types of toys that typically contain it.

Stay on the safe side by having your child screened by a physician for lead exposure with a simple blood test that will detect the smallest level of lead, starting at age 1 and continuing through age 6. If no lead is present in the test, chances are the toys your child plays with are safe, and so is your household environment.

Start with a pediatrician
Start with a pediatrician (Image: Doctor examines the patient image by Ella from Fotolia.com)

Sidestep those commercial lead testing kits. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta have tested most of them and have shown them to be unreliable.

Lead test kits can be unreliable
Lead test kits can be unreliable (Image: bandelette test image by YvesBonnet from Fotolia.com)

Check the manufacturer's name when buying dolls or action figures for children. Even if the toy is made in America, it may have accessories that are manufactured in China, where the largest number of toys containing high amounts of lead have been identified. Check the manufacturer's name through a consumer reporting agency or on the internet, to see if the their products have had recalls for high lead content.

Painted dolls can be dangerous
Painted dolls can be dangerous (Image: russian babushka dolls image by adrian stones from Fotolia.com)

Avoid buying children's toys from vending machines. The cheap jewelry and figurines in these machines are often decorated with lead paint. Test children's jewelry by rubbing it hard on a piece of paper. If it leaves a dull, grey mark on the paper, it contains lead. Do not buy toys that have tiny, removable parts that can be swallowed whole. Not only are they a choking hazard, but they can deliver a toxic exposure if the part contains lead.

Choose stuffed animals with care. Check that the manufacturer has not had product recalls, since even reputable, big-box retailers have had to pull stuffed animals that contain high levels of lead from their shelves.

Know the manufacturer's history when buying stuffed animals
Know the manufacturer's history when buying stuffed animals (Image: stuffed toy dog image by kastock from Fotolia.com)

Use your senses. Test the weight of a toy in your hand. If it seems too heavy for its size, chances are good it contains lead. Look at the toy. If it has a dark grey, metallic shade or is painted bright orange or red, put it back. If the toy is made of soft, malleable plastic, don't buy it. Lead is used as a stabilizer to keep plastics pliable.

Supervise children when allowing them to play with a grandparent's toys, especially if they are solid metal, or painted. This includes army figures, train sets, anything more than 40 years old.

Tips & Warnings

  • Teach your child not to chew on any toy--even a stuffed animal.
  • If you live in a house that was built before 1978, watch carefully for peeling and chipping paint. This is a continuing source of high levels of lead, especially when ingested by children.

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