Holiday Toys - Not all Fun and Games

Friday, December 10, 2010 - 5:57am

Tips on Keeping Kids Away from Lead Exposure

It is the season to be buying and giving toys to children. While this holiday tradition is supposed to bring joy to the young recipients of these gifts, the purchasers of these toys should be aware of some important safety issues. Every holiday season in recent years has brought headlines about large batches of mostly imported toys, including toy jewelry and painted wooden toys, containing lead and/or other toxic materials. Children can be exposed to the lead through normal handling of these products, which for younger children usually means putting the toys in their mouth.

Lead is a poison that is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell. Even at low levels, lead can cause delays in the mental and physical development of young children that can have life-long impacts. Children who are poisoned by lead when they are toddlers have a higher risk for learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and aggression. To reduce these risks, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issues regular recalls of toys that could potentially expose children to lead.

There are several challenges to parents regarding what to do about this risk. Toy recalls tend to happen after the toy has been on the market. The only way to accurately determine if a toy meets the safety standards for lead is through analysis by a certified laboratory. Home test kits cannot determine how much lead is in the toy and these test kits often miss low levels of lead. If you suspect that your child has been exposed to a toy containing lead, remove the toy immediately. The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene is one lab in our area that can provide testing of toys for lead if desired. For a list of other certified laboratories contact the National Lead Information Center at or 1-800-424-LEAD.

The only way to tell if your child has been exposed to lead is to have the child's blood tested. Your health care provider can advise whether such a test is needed and also can recommend treatment if your child has been exposed to lead.

Despite the potential risk of exposure from lead containing toys, it is also important to remember that the vast majority of lead poisoned children are exposed from ingesting lead paint chips and dusts from lead-containing paint found in many older homes. Pre-1950 homes are the most likely to have lead hazards but any home built before 1978 may have lead in the windows, doors, porches and other painted or varnished surfaces. Public Health Madison and Dane County is currently working with local partners, Commonwealth Development and Project Home, to help correct these problems in homes across our community. Some of these homes may qualify for a federal grant that will cover the costs of identifying and removing lead hazards to protect children from exposure to lead. Dane County residents can call Public Health Madison and Dane County at 242-6515 for program information and eligibility criteria.

For current information about specific toy recalls, check with the CPSC's website at: or call them at 1-800-638-2772.




  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302