I had to call my friend Amy this morning to tell her that the gift I gave her precious little child last month may be toxic. I had added the “Elmo Tub Sub” toy to a bath-themed gift basket for little Sam, and it was intended as a thoughtful—not toxic—touch. My own son had received the same toy as an infant and all the credit for his head of shiny clean hair rests with that little boat. Chugging across the tub, Elmo bought me hours of distracted hair-washing fun and I had hoped he’d do the same for my friend. I’m usually thrilled to hear that Sam had taken a shine to something I gave him, but this morning I was horrified, especially because Sam is teething and is likely to have gnawed on Elmo every bathtime for the past month. So today, Elmo will be going to the Post Office to return to troubled toyland and little Sam will go to his pediatrician for a lead test.
Elmo and Sam are not alone. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced in early August 2007 that Fisher Price is recalling almost one million plastic pre-school toys made by its Chinese vendor, due to lead poisoning hazard. This is the latest in a run of recalls of Chinese-manufactured products this year, including the melamine-tainted pet food that killed cats and dogs across North America, and the Thomas the Tank Engine toys that were also coated with lead paint. Add in dangerous tires and contaminated toothpaste scares and it’s no wonder I feel like boycotting anything made in China—and ordering in Indian food tonight (okay, so I’m a tad dramatic).
In general, the media is applauding Mattel for reacting and containing this potential disaster—they prevented two-thirds of the stock from reaching store shelves—but more than 300,000 tainted toys were sold in the United States. I’d applaud Mattel if they dedicated their resources to tracking down those toys and providing lead tests for affected children. They could take the money they’re saving by manufacturing in China and put it to work on damage control here. Our kids should not be the only ones paying the price. In light of this latest scandal, toy companies like Mattel are now scrambling—as they should be—to assure the public that they will enforce new safety checks to ensure Chinese-made toys are safe. Also, the Toy Industry Association is currently working with the CPSC to come up with tighter restrictions. I wonder if they’re also looking into the possibility of manufacturing their toys here in the U.S., where lead paint is illegal and these companies can keep a closer eye on suppliers and vendors. I know I’d be willing to pay more for peace of mind.
However you’re feeling about this latest recall, please don’t ignore it.
What You Need To Know.
- You’re Better Safe Than Sorry. If you or a friend have recently purchased or received children’s toys, please check your toys against the CPSC’s list of affected toys.
- Finding Chuckie. The recalled toys include plastic phones, dollhouses, tools, and bath toys that feature popular pre-school characters like Dora the Explorer, Elmo, and Big Bird. They were manufactured between April 19 and July 6, 2007, and sold at stores across the United States between May and Aug 1, 2007. The toys are all marked “Fisher Price” and may have a code between 109-7LF and 187-7LF marked on the product or packaging.
- Who You Gonna Call? Tainted-toy owners should call the Fisher Price hotline at 800-916-4498, or visit Mattel’s Web site for return details. Mattel will send you a brochure to confirm whether your product is affected and a pre-paid electronic merchandise return label to send back your product, if it is. Within six to eight weeks, you’ll receive a voucher, which can be used to purchase another Fisher Price or Mattel toy of equal value. (I’d rather get my money back.)
- Don’t Play With Fire. Not like we need to be reminded yet again, but lead poisoning can cause serious health problems for young children, including brain damage. CPSC chairwoman, Nancy A. Nord, said in a statement, “These recalled toys have accessible lead in the paint, and parents should not hesitate in taking them away from children.”
At the end of the day, toy companies want to make money and the reality is that it’s cheaper to manufacture toys in China—where leaded paint is not illegal. So I can’t imagine that anything’s going to change overnight. For now, I’m implementing my own safety checks: I’ll avoid anything made in China. Maybe it won’t be such a bad thing to ban all these wasteful plastic toys from my children’s lives. They’re just as happy playing with cardboard boxes, pots and pans, and dirt anyway, and maybe that’s what we’ll be giving little Sam for his next birthday: a big pot of good old-fashioned dirt.
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