Toys
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I Didn’t Know I Needed to Worry About Lead, and the Case for Handmade Toys

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You may surmise from the title of this post that I’m a proponent of well made toys. Given a choice, I’d select a few quality toys over a mountain of plastic junk. Unfortunately, the reality is that my house is currently OVERRUN with the latter. I don’t know how it happened exactly. What I do know is that I’m not the main culprit, mmmkay?? It seems that with every birthday, holiday and just-because celebration, my kids receive so much STUFF. And of course, sentimental hoarder that I am, I cannot throw out any object that has any significance to my kids. You should see my dried dandelion/ leaf/ acorn/ rock collection that Alex has kindly curated in my honour.

But a couple of weeks ago, something happened that stopped me in my tracks and forced me to confront this spiraling trajectory of craptoy madness. We had just finished my daughter’s 12 month doctor’s checkup. Vaccinations had been administered, measurements taken; we showed off our little words and pearly whites. Then we waited in the lobby for the results of the lead screen test as we recovered from the insult of those nasty shots.

I’m an obsessive worrier by nature, always seeking out the next topic over which to anguish. So, if I wasn’t worried about the lead test, you can imagine how low down on my radar that concern was. Except that when the doctor emerged with the results of the finger prick test, he was a little uneasy. Olivia’s test was above that with which they’re comfortable. Not high enough to warrant the government turning my house upside down but high enough that the test needed repeating. He said it was possible she’d handled something liked a piece of printed paper that could cause a falsely high reading. We could repeat the finger prick test in a month, or we could go in for the dreaded venous blood test. I wasn’t about to wait around for a month, wondering if my daughter was playing with some lead contaminated toy. So, I opted to take my poor baby for the blood test. I’ll spare you the awful details of that experience but it took forever to find a vein. All I could think was “what do people with really sick children go through if I’m so traumatised by this experience?”

Stupidly, we went in for the blood test on a Friday, so I had to wait out the weekend for the results, which they didn’t have until Tuesday. In the interim, I removed almost all of Olivia’s toys and books from her little play area. And I don’t think the plastic toys will return. I couldn’t bear to post on this blog that week, thus the lull for the last few days. I could barely muster a normal conversation, let alone be creative.

Thankfully, the blood test was negative- completely negative. I honestly have no idea what happened; why the finger prick test was positive, and how reliable it is in the first place. I can only hope there are more false positives out there than negatives.

During my short stint as a lead expert (you know, between Wednesday and Tuesday), I discovered some very scary facts about lead content in toys. Although it is illegal to add lead to paint in the United States, lead paint is ROUTINELY discovered in toys imported from China, even by companies such as Fisher Price. Yes, there are Elmo toys out there that have been recalled due to lead content! But even scarier than this fact is that is NOT illegal in the United States to have lead in plastic toys. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. BPA in plastic = BIG NO-NO but LEAD is A-OK! Please tell me which bureaucratic stuffed shirt is responsible for letting that one slip through the cracks! Why is the EPA more concerned with taxing businesses for rain runoff than protecting our kids from the deleterious effects of lead?

Although the biggest source of lead exposure in children in the US is from lead paint in older homes, another major source of concern is cheap jewelry/ trinkets and children’s toys. Beware of old or heirloom toys also, as many will have been manufactured using lead based paint.

I’m obviously NOT an expert but this is how I plan to minimise my children’s risk of exposure to lead and other harmful substances in their toys. Purchase toys made in the USA and in the EU, using quality materials, preferably unpainted/ unstained wood and organic fabrics (Etsy is a treasure trove for non-toxic wooden toys but be aware of the seller’s reputation). Minimise exposure to plastic or questionable materials where possible, though the Lego and Playmobil toys will stay. I also plan on keeping a more watchful eye on printed materials and books that Olivia is so fond of putting in her mouth. Board books are not suitable teething toys. And something I’ve long wanted to do but continue to put off for no good reason- make some of the kids’ toys.

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Two books I’ve come across recently to aid in that capacity, that are really exciting (perhaps only to me?). The first is to satisfy Alex’s obsession with zoo life. Knit Your Own Zoo, by Sally Muir. We purchased it last week and, to say that he is ecstatic about it, would be an understatement. The second will be released next month. The Making of a Rag Doll, by Jess Brown- complete with patterns for making your very own Jess Brown ragdoll and clothing. Perhaps you’ve noticed my obsession with Jess Brown dolls? I simply cannot spend over $200 on one right now though, especially not for a one year old with a penchant for tearing stuff apart. I’ve found a great online store, Organic Cotton Plus, for organic fabrics and notions that appears to be very reasonably priced too.

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So, stay tuned on that front because I plan on sharing my efforts at non-toxic toy making with you. I’m also going to be reviewing the books I mentioned- let’s see if I can manage to wrangle an advanced copy of that Jess Brown book!

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Images: Jess Brown Dolls, Manny & Simon organic toys, The Making of a Rag Doll

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  1. Pingback: This and that. | lex + liv

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