There is a Grinch out there, trying to steal Christmas, and he lives in the People's Republic of China. While Dr. Seuss' Grinch stole all the toys, this new Grinch has merely contaminated them. Gloomily, we face the reality that 80 percent of U.S. toys are made in China. And though China isn't diabolically plotting to rip out the heart of American culture, its unfettered capitalism has turned our marketplace into something akin to the lawless Wild West. From poisoned pet food to pesticide-laden fish and even toxic toothpaste, Chinese imports have been an ongoing medical emergency over the past year. Most troubling are the millions of contaminated toys sold by trusted brands like Fisher Price and Mattell. Coming from Santa's new workshop in China, these toys were recalled because of toxic levels of lead. Public health officials have spent the last half-century trying to de-lead our society, especially because children are so vulnerable to lead's effects on the developing brain. It's unconscionable that these efforts are being undermined by careless toymakers and a shoddy regulatory system.
Early civilization knew about lead hazards, yet this heavy metal's industrial charms have kept it around through the centuries. It refuses to leave the human landscape no matter how much we try to banish it. Although children today average five-fold less lead than a generation ago, there are still 300,000 children in the U.S. with too much lead in their systems. This is typically because of old paint and old plumbing, sources that can slowly release into a child's environment. Now we learn that imported toys may be adding to this body burden and harming brain development.
Ironically, we are probably better off this year than in Christmas' past. The alarm has been sounded and all the toy makers are scrambling to test, certify and reassure. Previous years had no fanfare, no recalls, but probably plenty of lead. Hence, this year's crop of toys may be better scrutinized and safer. However, parents have an extra job, to weed through toys already purchased and played with by junior. I don't envy the task of taking away a favorite toy, but lead safety warrants being smart about new and old toys to ensure your child will keep all the smarts he is born with.
Its Not Just Lead
The toxic toy issue goes beyond lead, as phthalates are increasingly turning up as a bad guy in the Wild West of consumer products. Phthalates are plasticizers that make...