For many children, toys are the wellspring of imagination—a tool for healthy development. But within the past several months, nearly 11 million children’s toys have been deemed dangerous and associated with causing death.
In two separate August incidents, Mattel, the nation’s largest toy manufacturer, announced recalls after testing of several popular brands, including Polly Pocket play sets and the dye-cast car, Sarge, from the movie "Cars," revealed high levels of lead in paint and that small, powerful magnets could be swallowed and cause intestinal damage.
The August incidents follow a June recall, in which 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys distributed by RC2 Corp. of Oak Brook, were declared unsafe due to lead paint. All of the toys recalled this summer were manufactured in China.
Experts recommend the toys be removed immediately and either discarded or returned.
While it may be difficult to take away their favorite toy, it’s important that children be told about the reasons behind the removal, says Len Simonian, president of the Only Hearts Club, a Los Angeles area fashion doll manufacturer not involved in the recalls.
"The best thing parents can do is sit down with their children and explain they’re not just taking the toy away, but that it’s for their own safety," he says. "That will help the child understand that it’s for their own good and that it’s not a punishment."
Although some industry experts believe the lead paint incidents to be isolated to particular Chinese factories, the recalls have little to do with location and more with oversight, says Sarah Chusid, program associate for Kids In Danger, a Chicago-based non-profit group committed to improving child product safety.
"These brands spend a lot of time and money cultivating their names as being linked with safety—they have the money and the obligation to test their products and everything else become irrelevant in our minds," Chusid says.
Whether a mistake or malfeasance by Chinese subcontractors, the recalls will assuredly tighten industry safety standards and increase testing by manufacturers and regulators, Simonian says.
Additional scrutiny will certainly make toys safer in the long run, however, the recall trend is not likely to fade anytime soon, Chusid says.
"When they’re testing toys for lead, they’re finding it and if they continue to be tested, they’re going to keep finding it and continue to recall products."
How we did it
Taking away kids’ favorite toys because of the recall can be difficult and filled with tears. Area parents share how they did it.
We "told Dana that we had to send her toys back to the toy store because they had bad stuff in them that could make her sick. It took a couple of times to explain it before she started asking me about ALL her toys. I told her it was only the ones from her birthday party and that Santa and the Easter Bunny made sure all her toys were safe. Amazingly this 3-year-old knew EXACTLY which ones she got for her birthday!"
Jeff and Lori
"This story has encouraged me to search for more American made toys for my son. ... And as much as he loves Dora and Diego, they are part of the recall and he will be getting no more of their toys. He will be getting lots of Dora books, which he should have anyway."
Erin and Scott
"We have virtually every Thomas train ever. We put the recalled items in a bag, told the boys, who are 4 and 2, that the paint on the trains was bad and making some kids sick, so we are sending them back and they will send us new ones. They were sad, but are excited about the new trains coming and keep asking when they will be here."
"When I heard about the recall I went online to see which sets were being recalled—almost all of her birthday/Christmas toys were on the list. I first started by saying how lucky she was that the people who make Polly Pockets were going to give her certificates for new toys. I then explained that the toys I was returning had problems so they wouldn’t hurt her or any other children. She was upset, but happy to look forward to a shopping spree with mommy."
A quick check of Geppeto’s Toy Box in Oak Park showed some fun alternatives to the recalled toys.
Puzzles — Made of hand-cut rubber wood in Sri Lanka, these Alphabet Animal blocks provide hours of fun.
Kapla blocks — The unpainted blocks come with dozens of ideas for building masterpieces.
Doll — No hazards in this doll. Made in Germany, this Käthe Kruse doll is made with all natural materials, including cotton and sheep’s wool.
Has your child’s favorite toy been recalled?
For the list of recalled toys in August and other recent recalls, go to www.chicagoparent.com. Parents unsure if they have a recalled item can check a complete listing at www.cpsc.gov, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site.