Lead - it's the No. 1 concern on most parents' minds as
they cram the toy aisles and surf online for their kids' wish
lists. After a year full of unsettling recalls, many moms and dads
are wondering what's really safe - and with good reason.
With chronic exposure, lead can accumulate in the body, causing
lead poisoning, which can bring on a host of serious health
problems like learning and hearing disabilities, behavior problems,
and delayed development. Even low levels of lead in a child's
blood can indicate enough exposure to the toxin to cause subtle
difficulties with behavior and learning that are mostly
The good news is that now, more than ever, toy companies are
really stepping up their toy testing to make extra-sure that the
playthings kids unwrap this holiday season - and beyond - are OK.
Although it's natural to be a little wary, the toys being sold
in stores today are, if anything, safer than ever. And it's
important to note that lead paint in homes - not toys - is the main
cause of lead poisoning in kids.
Still, it's easy to become an informed consumer and to keep
lead from affecting your kids.
FAQs About Lead
The barrage of information in the media and constant recall
announcements can feel overwhelming. So here are some of common
lead-related questions answered:
How do hazardous items make it to the public in the first
Toys must meet federal and industry safety standards (for things
like lead paint, choking hazards, and sharp points). However, these
approved for safety by a federal agency before they're actually
sold. Companies are expected to comply with the standards, whether
they manufacture products in or import them to the United States.
The only way companies can make sure their products meet the safety
standards is to have them tested, usually by an independent
Now, after the onslaught of toy recalls, many companies are
buckling down on testing
the products actually hit the shelves. Plus, they're further
testing toys that are already in the market and pulling out any
that are deemed unsafe. And many retailers are laying down stricter
standards for the toys they stock.
Can I test toys for lead myself?
You can buy do-it-yourself lead testing kits, but they
aren't always reliable or accurate - they can give
false-negatives and false-positives, says the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission (CPSC). And the tests don't tell you exactly
how much lead is in a toy (or on a surface like a wall or window
sill). It's best to call a lead testing professional
What if my child has played with a toy recalled because
Coming into contact with a toy - or anything else containing
lead - once or twice probably isn't cause for too much concern.
It's continual exposure over a period of time that usually
causes lead poisoning.
Kids can ingest the dangerous, naturally occurring metal when
they mouth or swallow something made with lead or lead paint, or
when they simply touch it and then put their fingers in their
How and when should kids be tested for lead?
If your child had a toy that was recalled because of lead, throw
it away immediately and call your doctor, who may recommend a blood
test. All kids should be routinely tested at 1 year old and again
at age 2, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The most common blood test for lead involves pricking a finger
and taking a drop of blood. If tests show elevated lead levels, the
doctor will probably order another test that draws the blood from a
vein in the arm or hand.
What are some other ways kids are exposed to
Toys aren't the only things that could contain lead. Other
- homes built before 1978 (when the government banned the
manufacture of paint containing lead). Young children with lead
poisoning usually get it from eating chips of lead-based paint or
by inhaling lead particles in dust from walls covered with
- soil contaminated by nearby streets (because lead was once an
ingredient in gasoline) or by lead-based paint used inside or
outside the home
- water that flows through old lead pipes or faucets if the
pipes begin to break down
- some children's metal jewelry (in the metal itself, not
the paint). Most recalls of kids' jewelry involve those sold
in vending machines and at dollar and discount retailers.
- some hobby items (like stained glass, ink, paint, and
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
High levels of lead in the blood can cause symptoms like:
- muscle and joint pain
- loss of appetite
Lead also has been linked to anemia, severe colic, attention
problems, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and mental
retardation. But often there are no symptoms at all. The only way
to know for sure whether a child has lead poisoning is through a
For a list - with pictures - of toys, crafts, and children's
jewelry recalled for lead concerns (not just this year, but as far
back as the 1970s), go to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's (CDC) site, enter "lead recalls" in the
search box, then click on the first link. And, since toy sellers
might not have removed all recalled products from their shelves,
make sure to search the CPSC site for recalls before giving your
kids any plaything this season - better to be safe, than sorry.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.