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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Tips For This Year's Lead-Safe Toys

Tips For This Year's Lead-Safe Toys

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., December 16, 2009
By Gail Doyle, RN, PHN

EVERY HOLIDAY SEASON parents unintentionally purchase toys that put their children at risk for health problems. This year, take some extra steps to avoid giving the gift of lead poisoning.

Why is lead in toys a health problem?

Lead usually gets into a child's body through the mouth because young children touch and taste everything within reach. A child's body is small, so it takes only a little lead to do a lot of harm. Lead can permanently damage a child's brain and nervous system, leading to learning and behavior problems.

At first, lead-poisoned children usually don't look sick or act different. A blood test is the only way to know if your child has been exposed to lead. Talk to your child's doctor about testing.

Where can lead be found in children's products?

  • Lead can be in paint used on wood, metal and ceramics. Toys like painted blocks or action figures, metal cars and trucks, and ceramic items like tea sets may have lead.
  • Vinyl and soft plastic items like balls, lunchboxes, backpacks, and vinyl cords on jewelry may contain lead. Artificial Christmas trees and the plastic coating on the wires of holiday lights may also contain lead; children should not handle them.
  • Metal children's jewelry from vending machines or stores can be made of lead or be coated with lead-based paint. Such jewelry is dangerous if mouthed or swallowed.

How can I check toys for lead?

Check toys and children's products at home and at your child's day care or baby sitter's home. Be especially cautious about toys that your child mouths, bites or chews. Products with lead may still be found at stores, secondhand shops, garage sales or flea markets. Some ways to check include:

  • Go to or call 1-800-638-2772 to check whether a product has been recalled by the CPSC.
  • Go to to look up specific products, or text the word KIDS (or NINOS for a reply in Spanish) to 30644 along with the name of the product to find out if it has been tested for lead.
  • During the holidays, have your toys tested at the Oakland office of the Center for Environmental Health ( The drop-in testing service is offered Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 6 p.m. at 2201 Broadway, Suite 302, Oakland, CA. Contact Ryan Nestle at, or 510-655-3900 ext. 310 with any questions.

If you choose to use a home lead test kit (available at hardware stores), be aware that they only test what is on the surface and may not indicate lead even if it is present. Toys that test positive for lead most likely contain lead, but negative results for toys may be unreliable.

What other steps can I take to keep my child safer?

  • Dispose of lead-tainted toys with your household garbage. Do not recycle, sell or donate them.
  • Wash toys regularly to clean off household dust.
  • Consider alternative gifts such as books, puzzles, craft supplies, sports equipment, tickets to movies or museums, or a family outing. Visit the Web site listed below for additional safer toy ideas.

For more information, contact your local lead poisoning prevention program. In Contra Costa County, visit or call 925-313-6763.

Doyle is the health educator for the Lead Poisoning Prevention Project of the county health department.

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