When I talk to people about lead poisoning they always ask about toys. The recent concern over lead in toys has brought the issue to the forefront of American parental consciousness.

As a mother of children who experienced acute lead poisoning as babies, I take great care in choosing their toys.

After my boys were poisoned by our home remodel (in late 2005) – to reduce the risk of any further exposure, I got rid of most of their toys: die-cast cars, figurines, and toys made in countries with known questionable manufacturing processes.  I also threw out “antiques” and toys that had painted decorations. (A boomerang my niece brought back from Australia as a gift tested positive for lead paint!)

Then we went out and bought all new Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks – excited about the possibility that my kids would be engaging in creative play with safe new toys from a European company.  A short time later  – the Thomas trains were recalled for lead paint!

Lesson learned!  You never know…

What I do:

1. I follow the CPSCIA notices and toy recalls.

2. If it has any paint on it – we avoid it.

3. We engage in activities that are not toy-centric, walking to the park, hiking, riding bikes; indoor activities include baking, drawing, costume play, and playing musical instruments, making home-made play dough (kids love warm play dough!

4. We avoid toys made of soft rubber or plastic because lead is often used as a stabilizer for soft plastics.

5. Most importantly (and I’m glad I don’t have girls for this one!) we avoid costume jewelry. Most costume jewelry is not sold as “intended for children”.  If it is sold as “not intended for children” it is not regulated and can legally contain unsafe levels of lead. Lead and other toxic metals from contaminated costume jewelry can also end up being directly “ingested” with the normal hand-to-mouth activity of children. My advice: Sterling silver. Pieces can be about the same price as a costume piece and can be so much more exciting for a child (to have something made of real silver!)  Please avoid small metal charms, crystals and painted beads from foreign countries especially, as those items can have very high lead content and can be easily swallowed—with tragic consequences.

6. To increase the chances that a toy is safe (without actually having it XRF-tested) – buy European toys (verify that they are not only designed in Europe, but also manufactured in Europe – where toxicity standards are far stricter than in the U.S. and many non-EU countries.)

Our Foundation is working on acquiring an XRF analyzer for toy testing so we can offer free toy-testing events around the country – so “stay tuned!” and ask to be added to our mailing list to learn about toy testing events near you.


Tamara Rubin

Winner of the Inaugural National Healthy Homes Hero award presented in June 2011 by a consortium of Federal agencies (including the EPA, CDC, HUD, USDA and U.S. Department of Energy), Tamara Rubin has been a childhood lead poisoning prevention advocate since her children were poisoned in 2005.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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