Lead poisoning in toys

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Many children’s toys are marked with a specific age range on the packaging to determine if a child is old enough to play with them. The age range serves as a guide to parents or grandparents on how old their children must be to play safely with the product. If the toy has small parts, most likely the age range is higher to prevent accidental swallowing and choking. Although important to avoid, these aren’t the only ways toys can be harmful to children. Many toys manufactured overseas and imported to the United States, antique toys, or collectible toys have been made using lead. Lead can be found in the paint used on toys, or in the production of the plastic used to make the toy. In the U.S. in 1978, lead was banned in house paint, on merchandise marketed towards children, and in dishes and cookware. The use of lead in plastics, however, has not been banned. Lead allows the plastic to be softened and makes it more flexible and return to its original shape if stretched. The purpose of lead used in toys is to stabilize the molecules from heat. Still, when toys made with lead are exposed to sunlight, air, or detergents, the chemical bond between the lead and the plastics break down and forms a dust. Lead is invisible to the naked eye and has no taste or smell. To be exposed to lead, all a child has to do is handle the toy that contains lead, and then put their hands in their mouth. Sometimes, children put their hands or the toys in their mouths, even sucking or chewing on them which can expose them to lead. The only way to accurately test for the presence of lead in a toy is through a certified laboratory test. Do-it-yourself kits are available to the general population, but they do not indicate exactly how much lead is present, and they have not been proved reliable at detecting low levels of lead.

What to do if you suspect your child has been exposed to lead: • Remove the toy from your child • Contact your health care provider and consider a blood lead test • If your child swallows the toy, contact your local Poison Control Center

How to prevent lead poisoning from toys: • Wash your children’s hands often, especially before eating • Wash your children’s toys often • Provide a nutritious and well-balanced diet with plenty of foods that are high in iron and calcium (children who may be undernourished can absorb more lead into their body than children with a healthy diet)


National Center for Environmental Health. (2009). Lead: Toys. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/toys.htm

Department of Human Services. (2007). Lead In Children’s Jewelry and Toys. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Web site: http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/lead/toysandjewelry.shtml

The Oklahoma Poison Control Center. (2008). Toys- Dangers of Lead Poisoning. Retrieved September 28, 2009, from Poison Help Home Web site: http://www.oklahomapoison.org/press/detailed.asp?InterestID=2051