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Erica Johnson on toy safety

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Erica Johnson, co-host of Marketplace on CBC Television. (CBC)
Have recent safety recalls left you uncertain about which toys are safe to buy?


Toy companies have issued numerous recalls this year unsafe lead levels and other hazards. Click here for an archive of Recalls and Advisories.

Erica Johnson specializes in consumer safety as co-host of CBC Television's Marketplace.

This is your chance to ask her about toy safety and consumer recalls.

Use the form below to send in your question, and check back to read Erica's answers.

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Comments: (4)

Janet (Surrey) wrote:

Q| Stores like Winners seem to carry a lot of brands of toys I don't see elsewhere. Apart from looking on the list of re-called items, is there anything that I can look for when buying gifts?

A| Hi Janet,

Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell just from looking at a toy whether it's made with toxic ingredients (lead, asbestos, etc.).

But there are other steps you can take for toy safety:

  • read and follow the age label (toys for older kids can be dangerous to younger kids)

  • look for warnings and safety messages on the packaging, and follow them

  • look for sturdy, well-made toys

  • look for choking hazards for kids under age three (such as wheels that can come off cars and trucks, buttons that can be pulled off plush toys)

  • avoid toys with long cords, or cords that are stretchy

  • if there is an ingredient list, avoid toys that contain parabens and/or pthalates

  • avoid loud toys - they can cause hearing loss (here's a link to a Marketplace story on the dangers of Noisy Toys):
    http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/health/noisytoys/index.html

Posted December 17, 2007 04:05 PM

Alice Trush (Thunder_Bay_ON) wrote:

Q| Mr. Potato Head, a toy that has been around for more than 20 years, is a collection of 40 plastic colored parts that snap together to create different creatures. How can I tell the lead content and if the toy is otherwise safe for a 3-year old?

A| Unfortunately, there is no way to detect the presence of lead except through lab testing.

When present, the lead tends to be in paint, and most of the parts in Mr. Potato Head kits are dyed plastic, not paint.

But while the presence of lead may not be a concern, toys with many small parts are risky to children under age 3, because they can be a choking hazard. Kids under 3 tend to put small things in their mouths, but so do some kids over age 3.

If your child tends to be "oral", I would supervise her playing with Mr. Potato Head (it's a good idea to discourage kids from putting anything that's not edible in their mouths - to reduce choking risk, but also to avoid bacteria, viruses, and other fun stuff kids can pick up).

Posted December 5, 2007 07:08 AM

Jim (Victoria) wrote:

Q| Have the new 2010 Mascots plush figures been tested for all the toxic elements that China (where they were made) is infamous for?
If VANOC says they have, please CBC do your own tests.I don't trust VANOC!

A| The toxic ingredients reported by the media have focussed on the presence of lead paint and asbestos in toys.

There is no paint involved in the making of the plush 2010 Mascots, so we can assume there is no presence of lead.

As for the potential for other dangerous ingredients in the Mascots, we are not aware of any VANOC testing for asbestos, but we do know that — to date — asbestos has been found in very few toys (the CSI Fingerprint Kit made in China, the Arts Skills Clay Bucket and the Ja-Ru Toy Clay).

That said, according to Canada's Hazardous Products Act, asbestos is allowed in toys as long as the material cannot become airborne.

Posted November 29, 2007 09:48 PM

andrew (vancouver) wrote:

Q| Do all or most dollar store toys contain lead paint? I noticed they are often made in China.

A| It's difficult to say how many dollar store toys contain lead paint.

More than 90% of all toys sold in Canada (in dollar store or not) are now made in China, and as recent news stories have documented, Canada doesn't have enough inspectors to thoroughly check product quality when items are imported.

As well, items can often be sold for some time before it's determined that they contain lead. That's because lead poisoning can take time to accumulate in the system and lead to symptoms (besides lead paint, consumers should be concerned about low-quality plastics used in cheap toys that can leach harmful ingredients like pthalates).

Certainly there are many high-quality products that originate in China, but there are also products that can cause severe health problems. So the answer to your question is: it's impossible to know how many toys sold in dollar stores may be problematic, although there isn't any evidence that it's "the vast majority."

Part of the problem is consumer demand for cheaper and cheaper goods — corners get cut in an effort to save money (not to mention the health hazards for workers in these environments). The more we demand a "deal," the harder it is for companies to make ends meet.

Bottom line — if a product seems so cheap that it raises questions about its safety, you may want to steer away from it.

Posted November 25, 2007 08:17 PM

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