Question of the Week

December 26, 2007


This month, across the country (and around the world) new toys are filling homes. For some, this will bring joy. For others, each new toy brings with it safety concerns that began months ago.

"[August 1, 2007] Toy-maker Fisher-Price is recalling 83 types of toys -- including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters -- because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. The worldwide recall being announced Thursday involves 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States between May and August. It is the latest in a wave of recalls that has heightened global concern about the safety of Chinese-made products."

Lead paint on toys will periodically make the news when toys are recalled, but this is not the main source of lead poisoning for children in the United States.

"'There are now seven peer-reviewed articles in the medical literature that indicate the major loss of IQ occurs in children at blood-lead levels of less than 7.5 micrograms/dL [of lead],' Rosen says. ... The CDC says about 310,000 American kids (1 to 5 years old) have blood-lead levels over 10 micrograms/dL. A U.S. child's main risk of lead poisoning comes from the lead-based house paints in near-universal use before 1950. The paints were banned for housing use in 1978. An estimated 24 million U.S. housing units -- which some 4 million young children call home -- have deteriorated lead paint contributing to lead-contaminated house dust."

While lead paint on toys is a problem -- and it has brought attention to both lead paint and toy safety issues -- there are far more children who get lead poisoning from their homes and are injured by their toys in other ways.

"At least 16 children ages 9 and under died in 2004 from toy-related injuries. Approximately 161,100 children, ages 14 and under, were treated at hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2004. Almost half of the children treated for these injuries (45 percent) were ages 4 and under. ... In 2004, children under age 5 accounted for 35 percent of all toy-related injuries."

Almost half the toy-related injuries that required an emergency room visit involved children ages 4 and under, and just over a third of all toy-related injuries involved children ages 5 and under.

"Although toys intended for young children should be free of small parts that could easily cause a choking incident, toys intended for older children may find their way into the hands of younger children. Reminder: Be sure to keep ALL small items out of the hands of children who mouth objects, especially children under the age of three. Remind three and four year olds to keep such items out of their mouths. Instruct older children to keep these items out of reach of younger children."

"Reminder: Be sure to keep ALL small items out of the hands of children who mouth objects..." Toys intended for children over the age of three are not intended to be in the mouth. Older children who put toys in their mouths (even occasionally) should be warned of the danger and taught that their toys are not intended for such a purpose.

"In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. They are called Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year. ... Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound - made from common and easily available ingredients - can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death. ... The two U.S. children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday afternoon. In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being treated. ... [Aqua Dots] had appeared on many toy experts' list of must-have holiday toys."

One could argue that the 2-year-old and the 19-month-old should not have been allowed access to the toy. It probably belonged to an older sibling.

While it is easy to blame the toymakers (and no one is saying that such a hazardous substance should be on a child's toy), older children who are given toys designed for their age ranges are also given the responsibility to play with them safely. This is not always easy.

Toymakers know this is a daunting task, but it is also very difficult to make toys that appeal to older children yet are safe for ALL ages. For this reason, there are warnings on many toys designed for older children. These toys were never intended to be safe in the hands of those under the age of 3 -- or in the hands of anyone who still puts toys in their mouth.

Does this take all responsibility away from the toymakers? Absolutely not. Toymakers are still expected to make safe toys.

"The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $800 billion annually. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard." To see current Toy Safety Publications from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, you can visit:

That said, children's product safety is more than just toy safety.

"Of all children's products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death, according to CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] injury data. Since 1973, more than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons. Most of the victims were under six years of age, but the CPSC does know of several older children who have suffocated on balloons. ... Some children have sucked uninflated balloons into their mouths, often while attempting to inflate them. This can occur when a child who is blowing up the balloon inhales or takes a breath to prepare for the next blow, and draws the balloon back into the mouth and throat. Some deaths may have resulted when children swallowed uninflated balloons they were sucking or chewing on. The CPSC knows of one case in which a child was chewing on an uninflated balloon when she fell from a swing. The child hit the ground and, in a reflex action, inhaled sharply. She suffocated on the balloon. The second kind of accident involves balloon pieces. Children have drawn pieces of broken balloons that they were playing with into their throats. If a balloon breaks and is not discarded, for example, some children may continue to play with it, chewing on pieces of the balloon or attempting to stretch it across their mouths and suck or blow bubbles in it. These balloon pieces are easily sucked into the throat and lungs. Balloons mold to the throat and lungs and can completely block breathing."

Questions of the Week:
Who is responsible for making sure that toys are safe before they arrive in toy stores? Who is responsible for determining if a toy will be safe for the child it is purchased for? How can a parent (or someone else buying a gift for a child) know which toys will be safe and appropriate for the age and stage of development of the child for which they are buying? Once the toys are in the home, how can parents and older siblings help younger children learn to safely and responsibly enjoy the toys they have been given? What is the best way to help older siblings understand what safe choices are (and the importance of making them) when playing with their toys in an area that is accessible to younger siblings?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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