Even before Mattel recalled more than 19 million Chinese-made toys last week, I wasn't sure what was safe for my little teether's mouth.
Plastic was out, because until we know more about the effects of their chemicals, I didn't want him gnawing on softened products that contain phthalates. And last week, a federal panel ruled the compound used to make hard polycarbonate plastic -- bisphenol-A -- could pose a risk to the brain development of fetuses, infants, babies and older children.
So I gave him wooden toys. But now I worry that I've got a closet full of brightly painted wooden objects that might contain lead paint, even if they haven't been officially recalled. Should I just throw everything out to be safe?
"Given the current situation, I would get rid of toys with bright-colored enamel paint," said Chicago pediatrician Dr. Mark Rosenberg, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
Others say to just regularly inspect toys for chipped and peeling paint or small parts that have come loose and broken apart.
Here are some other answers to questions readers have sent after the most recent Mattel recall, which included 436,000 Chinese-made die-cast toy cars depicting the character Sarge from the animated film Cars because they are covered with lead paint. Another 18.2 million toys that contain tiny magnets that could harm children if swallowed also are being recalled. So what's the safest thing to give a teether?
Your (clean) fingers, Rosenberg said. If that's not appealing, try metal measuring cups and spoons, soft cloth toys, Sophie the Giraffe, frozen organic cotton washcloths and frozen bananas. "Toothbrushes, frozen bagels and dog toys," suggested Bill on Julie's Health Club blog. "If dog toys prove weird or offensive, go to a speech/language therapy catalog and pay four times the price for teethers/therapy devices that are pretty much dog toys."
What about all the older toys I bought at garage sales? Is there a way to get a list of historical product safety?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site (cpsc.gov) allows you to search recalls back to 1973.
My son was just tested for lead, and he had a reading of 4 micrograms per deciliter. What do I do now?
A level of 10 micrograms per deciliter or greater is considered unsafe, even though there might not be any visible symptoms. Try to identify the source and remove it. The dust created from lead paint manufactured before 1978 (which was used inside and outside houses, on playground equipment and on toys) is the largest threat. Lead also is found in some imported crayons, toy jewelry, calcium supplements, hair dyes and homes built before 1978. Children with high levels of lead can take a drug that binds lead in the blood and helps the body get rid of it.
Are there any natural ways to get a lead level down?
Nutrition can influence the amount of lead absorbed by a child, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Feed children a diet high in iron, calcium and vitamin C. Also, avoid foods stored in lead-soldered cans, glazed ceramic dishes or leaded crystal, vegetables grown in lead-contaminated soil, and foods or drinks with lead-contaminated water. (Use cold water for cooking or drinking, and let the cold water run for a few minutes before using it.) Avoid foods stored in printed plastic bread bags because the inks used for the wrapper might contain lead.
What are some lesser-known sources of lead?
Vinyl baby bibs, vinyl mini-blinds, curtain weights, imported candles, pewter figurines, lead sinkers used for fishing, toy soldiers and other figurines, metallic toys in gumball machines, imported metallic jewelry and Mexican tamarind candy.
Where can I get U.S.-made toys?
Try usmadetoys.com; www.oompatoys.com sells toys made in Europe and tells consumers which country the product is from. Also try Montessori and Waldorf toys and educational materials.
Julie Deardorff writes for the Chicago Tribune.