When toys make your children sick
By: Bill Couzens
©Times Community Newspapers 2007
Today parents are advocating for their children’s environments by ensuring children are free of unnecessary and preventable cancer-causing exposures to include products that could take on the everyday landscapes both at home and in school.

Those products may include anything from additives to specific foods, pesticides, cleaning products and now toys.

With news of recalls for lead in our children’s toys, the potential to compromise children’s health as an outcome, it is now yet another call to action for parents to do further sleuthing to understand the product(s) they are buying.
In the case of poisonous toys, how can one know ?

These toys are products of longstanding companies Americans have learned to trust.
Clearly the job of protecting the consumer is now the consumer’s. In our new role, we must take the time to learn about health outcomes we in the past had left up to government or corporate America.

Lead is invisible
As consumers, we don’t see the dangers of lead as we would with other things demanding our caution. That is why we must not depend on anecdotal evidence but rather sound science in making these determinations.

“Legal” or “invisible” does not translate to safe.

The Centers for Disease Control Web site reports that lead may be used in two aspects of toy manufacturing to include process’ for paint and plastics.
While lead was banned in 1978, it exists in the paint on imported toys, and on toys from before the ban.

One thing parents can do is to not buy imported toys or use toys made before 1978.
Although parents still need to be careful even when buying items made in the U.S. Safety requirements for those toys are generally more stringent, though not a guarantee. A quick search online will point consumers to American-made toys.
But we must not lose sight of the headline. We as consumers must learn to raise the bar for ourselves and not be dependent on government or corporate America to tell us what is “safe.” The bar for protecting human health will only be raised when we as consumers take the time to understand the products we bring into our lives.
For instance, the CDC also reports that use of lead in plastics has not been banned. It softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape.

When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents, the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust.
And while that process for the use of lead is legal, it is counterintuitive to what we know about lead and its links to negative outcomes for human health, especially for children.

While many of us once played with lead toys, to include the likes of soldiers, we may be tempted to say; “I played with lead toys, and it never hurt me.” How many times have we all said those very words?

The realty is that lead is poisonous. We now know better. Lead is harmful to human health, especially children’s.

Just as we no longer allow children to ride in a car without seatbelts or sit in smoke-filled rooms, we would never knowingly allow children to play with toys known to make them sick.

Children are different from adults. Pound for pound, children eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air than adults. Thus, they are likely to be exposed to substances in their environment at higher levels than are adults. Exposure to toxicants may result in irreversible damage, even though the same exposure to a mature system may result in little or no damage.

The CDC says that if you have any reason to suspect that your child has been exposed to a toy containing lead, remove the toy immediately. Most children with elevated blood lead levels have no symptoms. The only way to tell is to have a blood lead test. Your health-care provider can help you decide whether such a test is needed and can also recommend treatment if your child has been exposed.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission asks that parents check for possible recalls of their children’s toys and take the toys away immediately if they have been recalled.

Photos and descriptions of recalled toys can be found at or by calling (800) 638-2772.

Lead poisoning should be entirely preventable. The key is stopping children from coming into contact with lead and treating children who have been poisoned by lead.
Families should use the toy recall as the wakeup call to read labels, understand label content and even work to understand those products without labels.

Information – not fear – is what is going to protect human health.

Bill Couzens, of Middleburg, is the founder of

©Times Community Newspapers 2007