Get the Lead Out!

I’m becoming increasingly concerned and frustrated about the safety of my children’s toys. 

Ever since Widget was born, I have bought and advocated for the purchase of wooden and natural toys.  We buy responsibly, from small firms or those who have repeatedly assured moms and the public that their testing is frequent and thorough.  We make many of our own toys, out of pieces of scrap wood (okay, Grandpa makes many of those); PVC pipe and connectors; ribbon, yarn, boxes, and similar “found” materials, both to reduce our environmental load on the planet and my children’s exposure to the plastic crap that dominates the children’s toy market these days.  They also fit my bias towards toys and materials that encourage my children’s creativity, encourage them to ask questions, and can be used three ways.

We weathered the great Thomas Recall of ’07, the Polly Pockets Debacle, and the Sesame Street/Elmo/Fisher Price Roundup with only limited damage.  Limited in our case meaning one measley James train and a stop sign were collected, declared “sick,” and sent to the “hospital” to be fixed.  All our other wooden trains are Ikea or Brio, so we felt pretty good about our trainyard escaping relatively unscathed.

That is, until I learned that the CPSC, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, has exactly ONE full-time product tester on staff.  That’s right, mamas.  There is ONE tester, in an office in Gaithersburg, spending his days dropping toys on the floor, checking the size of the little parts, swiping for lead, and otherwise making sure that the toys that our children are safe.

We have one of those too.  We call him “Dad.”

This scares the bejeebus out of me.  With ONE tester, how many of our toys are tested each year?  How many more slip through and are never tested?  I haven’t seen any recalls of IKEA toys, for instance.  Are they super-safe, or not tested?  I just can’t be sure, and it’s making me uneasy.  No, it’s making me furious.

As a result, I’ve tried to stick with the natural toys or big-name-brand toys like Fisher Price that I KNOW will be tested and any recall publicized.  It’s working … to some extent.  The toys are being tested, all right, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been recall-free.  In fact, Little Bear’s big Christmas gift, already bought and tucked away in the basement, has already been recalled due to small breakable parts.  Great.  Just Great.  I haven’t even opened the box yet, for heaven’s sake!  It was featured on the front page of their catalog this fall, and I confidently bought it as a fun situational toy for Little Bear and Widget to play in together!  Widget even helped me pick it out for Little Bear.  And now … a recall?  Thankfully, Fisher-Price is acting fast and offering a repair kit through the mail.  But it doesn’t increase my confidence in the company.  And this is a company I’ve loved since I was Little People-aged myself.  I want to boycott them, I really do, but the problems are clearly not confined to one major company like Fisher-Price or Mattel.

The question that I worry about is … what is the CPSC missing, with their one product tester?

Find out what other moms and dads think about the issue today over at the Parent Bloggers Network Blog Blast, and find more about what you can do to protect your kids at Consumers Union (the independent, nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports) and the League of Maternal Justice (they just launched a new Toxin Avengers Campaign!).

P.S. Mom’s home!


18 Responses to Get the Lead Out!

  1. Kristen says:

    “We call him Dad”

    LOL. It’s unreal to me. And I love your toy suggestions — use it three ways.


  2. Hi, Whymommy– we were all thinking of you at treatment yesterday, and hope you aren’t feeling too, TOO crappy today ((hug)).

    The most enlightening thing I have done regarding the toy safety issue is do a school project with my kids about it. My eldest daughter (who is eleven) has a current events essay due once a month, and we chose the toy recall as September’s subject. All of the girlies got involved– cutting out pictures from catalogues, reading (age appropriate) articles… Not only did I learn a ton (one of the facts being that we here in Canada have about the same-sized toy safety testing department as you do in the States, and we actually rely a fair amount upon what the tester in the USA decides…), but my KIDS started to really understand the issue. They no longer beg for the crappy plastic products– not just because of the potential safety issue, but we also read a lot about the conditions under which the toy manufacturing employees work under. My kids now know that we have the ability to send a message to toy companies– by NOT buying their products, until they seriously clean up their acts.

    Love to you, as always– CGF and Girlies 3 xo

  3. Holly says:

    I hear you on this issue. But I was surprised to see you mention PVC as a good alternative.

    You are the scientist, so I defer to your knowledge, but I have read that manufacture and disposal of PVC emits dioxin, that it can leach toxins during use, and releases more dioxins when landfilled or burned. Plus vinyl products (like children’s toys) can contain lead.

    In fact, Target just announced that it will reduce PVC use in the packaging and children’s products that it sells because of concerns about lead.

    Just thought I would mention this…

    Take care!

  4. I am feeling the same way. And even though I really do hate to do it, since I grew up loving Little People and yes, Barbies, we are not buying any Mattel or Fisher Price toys and have asked relatives to not buy any either. Its sad, but I expect more recalls, and don’t want to end up with toys that are unsafe. Its a sad state to be in.

  5. OK, OK, off this subject but back a couple of posts as promised, I posted about you today “Love as Beauty.”
    the individual voice: Love as Beauty

  6. I haven’t tried these myself, but have heard good things about these toys: I was thinking about getting one for Christmas for my boyfriend’s nephew. They remind me of the toys I had (and loved) when I was little!

  7. whymommy says:

    CGF — Thank you! It was a rough night (I was up sick all night), but I got some writing done. 🙂 What a great project to do with your girls! Brilliant.

    Holly — You’re absolutely right on the environmental aspects of PVC. Absolutely right. But for play value, it can’t be beat. We have a number of lengths of PVC pipe and all different connectors, and Widget loves to assemble and reassemble it into whatever he’s into at the moment — a leaf blower, a hair dryer, an oar … so I keep it around for creativity. But you’re probably right and I shouldn’t for environmental reasons.

    Jessica — Good for you for standing strong!

    TIV — Beautiful post! Thanks for letting me know!

    Recovering Overachiever — I hadn’t seen that site yet — the second one is a lot like a toy we have from my childhood. All the toddlers that come over love it, and pull it around the room. I’m so glad that someone is making it again! Looks like a good site.

    This is a fun topic… and I have some ideas on how to actually take action, so there may be more here soon!

  8. ~JJ! says:

    Scary isn’t it?

  9. Just stopped by, and wanted to update you on my daughter. She had a needle core biopsy done on Wednesday and it came back benign. Thank you very mucyh for your support…

  10. mama k says:


    How crazy is that.

    I too prefer the more “natural” toys, but that doesn’t prevent the grandparent on loading him up with FP crap. I am making him a doll this xmas and will be going with the “less is more” matra.

    My entry is here 🙂

  11. Susan K says:

    And it gets even worse when the kids get older, and start seeing things on TV (OK, your kids don’t watch TV with commercials, but eventually even Disney gets to be too young and, heh, SpongeBob IS fun… )

    So they start asking. And the uncles and aunts ask what do you want. And how easy is it to direct them to those things you saw on TV and were asked for over and over and over again.

    Like AquaDots. Which arrived for October 19. And which have been waiting. And when, earlier this week I revealed that I would take today off work and 7 year old and I would have a “special day with mum” she has been excited – to do the Aqua Dots. She told her teacher for crying out loud!

    And so, today, when we were running an errand and she said we would go home soon and do Aqua Dots, I took her aside. And got down on her level. And said, they just told us that the beads are poison. And if your baby sister ate them, she would get very sick, and maybe worse. And I gave her two choices: wait until we can swap the beads for ones promised to be safe; or make something and then hide it away.

    And right away, my wonderful daughter said, “let’s wait”. But a few hours later. After lunch. After playdoh. After other playing. After popcorn and SpongeBob, she asked, “can’t we please just make one thing?”. So we did. And I washed my hands about a thousand times and made her do the same. And the toxic little yellow duck is sitting on the tray, drying. And I wonder if she will let me throw it out, or if I have to find some place, up high, absolutely out of reach, of both of them, for the next, oh 2 years or more… Sigh

    And I wait for the day that it is revealed that the “natural wood” toys are injected with arsenic, to preserve the wood, like our pressure treated deck. Because if you get right down to it, arsenic IS natural… double sigh.

  12. Jenn says:

    One tester.

    Scary. And maddening.

  13. […] with testing the toys that our children play with every day, has only ONE toy tester on staff.  I was outraged to hear this, and, by your comments on my last post and the other posts in the blogosphere today, many of you […]

  14. Ally says:

    It is scary and maddening, I agree. And it’s also a wake-up call to all of us, I think, to re-examine our consumer culture, where we think we have to buy the toys just because the companies are selling them. I so often fall into this trap. I love your ideas of making your own toys and the creativity that is nurtured in the process.

  15. AW says:

    A dozen monkeys with lead test swabs could be more effective.

    Anyway – it’s sad that every day we find out about another thing that our kids wear, eat or play with that can hurt them.

    I’ve found to be invaluable during these last few months.

  16. ltfiggs says:

    One tester? Well, that’s REAL comforting!! Is that a Federal employee? Hmmm, is the fed.budget so short they can’t afford at least 2 testers!? I will definitely be visiting the “toyrecalls” website B4 “ho ho” shopping….Not to mention looking for “Made in USA” and maybe buying a lead-tester kit. With such an total disregard by China as to what they’re using in the products they export to US, one has to wonder….is it intentional??????

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