, Gloucester, MA

December 6, 2012

Making sure toys are safe to give to children

Senior Lookout
Anne Springer

---- — It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month, but readers might wonder why it’s showing up as a topic in this column devoted to matters of interest for older readers. In a word, grandparents! At holiday time, they are purchasing gifts for youngsters, too, and some of them, not having had small children around in a while, might not be fully aware of the hazards that lurk in local stores or online shopping channels.

Grandparents may be on limited incomes, so try to save money on toys.

By far the most important thing is to purchase toys appropriate for the child’s age. Fortunately, most toys are marked. Speaking of age, though, for those younger than 3, choking is the most common hazard, so any toys that have small parts that could come off, be pulled loose or chewed, or which have strings, are taboo for that age group.

Any toy should be painted with lead-free paint, and toys in general should be lead-free, and free of other toxic heavy metals. While toys made in the U.S. are supposed to be lead-free by law, toys made prior to 1978 (those “heirlooms” you might have considered giving, perhaps) and those manufactured in other countries may not be.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (( issues recalls of toys that could potentially expose children to lead, but not always before the toys make it into the hands of consumers. More than 2 million toys were stopped at the nation’s ports in 2012, before they made it on to store shelves.

Shopping at the dollar store for stocking stuffers may not be the safest thing, since many of the toys found there are imported from China, a country which has been implicated in many instances where lead has been found in toys, jewelry, and other products manufactured for use by children. WebMD has a good article that can help people identify some of the common ways children get exposed to hazardous toys: has a page devoted to how to purchase safer products for children: For example, it says that one of the most hazardous items is metal costume jewelry. So, if you are a grandparent who wants to purchase a bracelet for a granddaughter, for example, it might be better to get a sterling silver, or even a gold bracelet, and not a costume piece of questionable origin. If you cannot afford to do that, it’s better to choose another item than to risk the harm that can come to a child through lead poisoning, which can slow development and even cause mental retardation.

Purchasing American-made products is not a guarantee of safety or quality, but it is far less likely that such goods have unacceptable levels of harmful substances than if they came from countries where there is little regulation on manufacturing processes.

When shopping online, if you insert “lead free” or BPA free” in the search box with whatever item you are trying to find, it’s much likelier that you’ll find healthy, safe products to stuff your grandchildren’s stockings with this year. Have a safe holiday season of giving!

Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.