The recent and pervasive news about toy recalls due to lead content or coating is disturbing, and parents everywhere have a right to be concerned. However, experts agree that lead poisoning suffered by children living in older dwellings within the city limits of Buffalo and Rochester is “almost entirely the result of deteriorated lead-based paint in housing.” Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, www.leadsafeby2010.org. Children are most commonly exposed to lead through chips and microscopic particles of old lead paint generated by friction between painted surfaces on windows, doors and porches, thus permeating the child’s environment, getting onto his/her skin and hands, and passing into the body by routine hand-to-mouth activity.

It is hard to say, at this point, that the recalled imported toys are a serious source of actual lead exposure among children, because such toys have to be mouthed and chewed to disturb what is likely intact paint. In other cases, lead was used as a stabilizer in plastics, such as was used in lunchboxes, making access less likely. There was a greater risk of lead exposure with the earlier-recalled children’s jewelry because the jewelry was mouthed and sometimes swallowed.

In 2007, toy-maker Fisher-Price recalled 83 types of toys which included 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States. Sesame Street®, Dora the Explorer™, and Go Diego Go™ are among the toys recalled because they contained illegal amounts of lead. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standard for lead in paint is 600 parts per million. Tests of the Go Diego Go backpack chair found lead levels as high as 4,600 parts per million. However, the impermissible levels of lead content in the toys generally do not reach the denseness of concentrations of lead found in old exterior house paint.

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Eighty percent of toys sold in the United States are made in China and millions of toys have been recalled because of lead. Contaminated toys were an unsuspected source of lead exposure, and it is a growing problem. Lead is invisible to the naked eye, has no smell, or obvious symptoms. Children often place toys in their mouth and are exposed to lead in their environment by normal hand-to-mouth activity. Children under the age of three are at the greatest risk, but children are susceptible to lead poisoning up to the age of seven.

If you suspect your child has been in close contact with a toy containing lead, you should remove the toy immediately, contact your doctor and have your child tested. For more information on sources of lead exposure and prevention tips, visit www.cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO. Photos and descriptions of the recalled toys can also be found at www.cpsc.gov. or www.recalls.gov or http://service.mattel.com/us/recall.