Lead Poisoning & Toy Recalls

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It seems that every week there’s a toy being recalled. That’s because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has increased its testing of kids’ jewelry and toys. This year alone, it’s issued more than two dozen different lead-related recalls for kids’ products, including the most recent recall of millions of Fisher-Price toys.

While lead can cause permanent learning and behavior problems, parents shouldn’t immediately be alarmed if they own one of the recalled toys, says Dr. Michael Shannon, co-director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at Children’s Hospital Boston.

“The general message to parents should be one of reassurance,” says Shannon, who also chairs the AAP Committee on Environmental Health. “A child would really have to chew on these toys or peel off the paint and ingest it to be harmed. Or they would have to leave the toy in their mouth for a long period of time.”

Thankfully, lead cannot be absorbed through the skin, so just playing with a toy away from the face is fine.

Lead poisoning has affected more than 310,000 American children ages 6 and under, but most of it has come from the paint in houses built before 1978. That’s the year lead was banned from household paint. Toy jewelry has also been a culprit—a 4-year-old boy in Minnesota died of lead poisoning last year after swallowing a charm which came with some Reebok sneakers.

But it’s incredibly rare for a child to die from lead. Dr. T. Allen Merritt,  a professor of pediatrics at Loma Linda University in California, studied a 4-year-old boy who swallowed a metallic medallion—later found to be made of 39 percent lead—that came from a gumball machine. After extended hospitalization, he’s “now doing well and recovering,” Merritt says.

However, since lead goes into a young child’s blood and brain, it’s common to lead to lower intelligence, learning disabilities, hearing problems and anti-social behaviors.

There’s no such thing as a “safe” amount of lead, says Dr. Sylvia Choi, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to say the “acceptable blood lead level” was 60 micrograms per deciliter, but now that number is down to 10. Swallowing a paint chip the size of your fingernail will get you slightly above a 10, Choi says.

If you do think your child has lead poisoning, a simple blood test at your pediatrician’s office will let you know. Sometimes you won’t see any symptoms, but lead-poisoned children might have headaches or stomach pains. Choi says the venous blood lead level test—where the blood is taken from the arm—is more effective than the alternative finger-stick.

At age 1, and again at 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting routine testing for lead. The bad news is there’s no treatment to take lead out if the micrograms per deciliter number is under 45. If it’s above 45, your child likely will be prescribed a drug that takes lead out of the body, a process called chelation.

Buying Toys in the Future

CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese says most toys are safe: “U.S. consumer products are among the safest in the world and children’s products are the most heavily regulated. Parents should select toys to suit the age and abilities of the child. The CPSC is made up of parents and grandparents, so protecting children is a top priority for this agency.”

Most of the recalled toys were manufactured in China and India, where safety standards are not as stringent as those in the U.S. Choi, who was a board member for Lead Safe Pittsburgh, says some simple prevention tips can ensure that your toys stay safe. “The best thing you can do is immediately look through your toys after a recall. Go through toys that have chipping paint and get rid of them. You should periodically wash your toys because you might have lead dust in your home.” She also recommends giving kids a snack or meal before playtime, since lead is absorbed better on an empty stomach.

Meanwhile, the law might be changing. Last year, the CPSC proposed a ban, rather than a recall, on all metal jewelry and toys containing more than the maximum allowed amount of lead. But it could take years to go into effect. And other states might follow  the lead of California, which now requires stores to meet the federal standards for lead content in jewelry.

Since the CPSC can’t possibly test everytoy on the market, keep checking for the latest product recalls and don’t buy cheap jewelry. But to combat the biggest lead poisoning culprit, remove the lead paint on the walls of your old home (consult an expert first). Millions of houses in the U.S. still have it.

This article was originally published on MSN Health Blog.

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