Toy safety is a top concern for all parents
Parents know how to protect children from dangers like small toys that can be choking hazards and dangling, frayed electrical cords that can cause shock. But what about the dangers you can't see, like lead in the paint of brightly colored blocks or the chemicals in a plastic sippy cup? Here are the latest toy safety guidelines you should be aware of.
According to George W. Shannon, MD, a family physician in Georgia who is on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians, parents should be most concerned about protecting their children from paint that contains lead. "The government agencies that help us in the U.S. can supervise overseas manufacturers, but you may want to avoid buying toys [made] overseas because lead paint can be a problem," warns Dr. Shannon.
New rules from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are further cracking down on products that contain lead, especially limiting the amount of lead that's permissible. A new law is requiring that U.S. toy makers and importers certify that kids' products meet the stricter safety rules and the ban on lead. But beware of thrift stores and consignment shops that resell older toys: They aren't required to give the same certification. You might also want to throw out any older toys in your home, especially those with chipping paint.
Shannon says the symptoms of lead poisoning can include nausea and vomiting, lethargy, failure to thrive, stagnant weight, and loss of appetite. "This may evolve over weeks or even months," he says. "The most important thing is to be suspicious. And if you decide to take your child to the pediatrician, bring the suspected toy with you."
There's been a lot of concern and government investigation into toys and baby bottles that contain bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound used in the manufacturing of many plastic items. Most educational toys are safe. The debate is over whether this substance has developmental effects in children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims its regulated products containing BPA are safe. However, it has also formed a new BPA task force to do more research.
Another substance that has sent up some red flags are phthalates, a group of chemicals included in a variety of products, such as toys made of flexible polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). The CPSC tests for these substances; if you are unsure about a toy, visit their Web site for a list of all toy-hazard recalls dating back to the 1970s.
Toy Safety: Flame Retardants and Pesticides
Flame retardants, also known as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), are currently under investigation by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency due to reports that these substances can become toxic to humans. But Shannon notes that many flame retardants can be removed from children's products, like stuffed toys, with repeated laundering.
Pesticides can also be potentially toxic to children. They are known to decompose quickly, but can remain in stuffed toys that have been sprayed or dragged around outside in the yard. The Children's Environmental Health Institute suggests a variety of alternatives to using standard pesticides, including organic and less toxic options such as insecticidal soaps, and keeping your yard and home cleaner to prevent pests.
It takes vigilance and some common sense to keep your baby safe from toxic toys. Staying up to date on efforts to improve toy safety will give you peace of mind.