Consumer Revolt Against Lead In Toys

When she was one, Britt Nordquist tested positive for high levels of lead. Her exposure came from a recalled "Thomas the Train" toy which she had repeatedly put into her mouth. Her mother, DJ, was worried that her speech was delayed:

"She does not have the number of words that she should have at this age," DJ said. "She should have about 6 to 8 and she really doesn't."

Center for Environmental Health
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Division

Two years later, Britt's lead levels are down and her speech is normal. But her mother's fears about lead toys still persist.

"I am going to do what I can as a consumer and a mother to make sure these products are not in my home."

Making her job a little easier is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which just this year lowered lead levels in products made for children under 12 and forced toy makers to do independent lead testing or face stiff penalties.

Toy importer Charlie Woo of "Mega Toys" notes: "The 2007 big toy recall was really a wake up call for the entire toy industry."

In 2007, over 26 million toys were recalled for lead and other dangers - sending parents into a panic. In 2008, there were 85 lead recalls, with 15 this year.

Woo tests his toys twice before they reach American shores. But he says some Chinese manufacturers still want to cut corners.

In years past, just getting Chinese toys to the U.S. almost guarenteed shelf space. Not anymore. The Consumer Product Safety Commission just this year stationed inspectors full time at 10 major U.S ports to check for lead in toys.

Advocates at the Center For Environmental Health are responsible for much of the progress. The small organization started doing random toy testing and suing toy makers to expose dangerous lead levels in 2007.

"We had many motivations to do this work," said Michael Green, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Health. "One was to protect the children that play with these toys another was to protect the workers who were manufacturing the toys."

DJ Nordquist isn't convinced yet.

"If it's made in China I won't buy it," she says.

But with 80 percent of all toys now imported from there, avoiding "Made in China" is almost impossible.