Consumer Test Reveals Many Common Toys Contain Lead

A series of tests arranged by Consumer 10 detected potentially dangerous amounts of lead in dozens of supposedly safe toys in central Ohio homes and day-care centers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has logged a record 72 toy recalls involving millions of dolls, games, trinkets and play sets - the vast majority tainted with lead.

The federal agency hasn't gone a whole week without a toy recall since mid-September. Last week alone, it announced 10, Consumer 10's Chuck Strickler reported.

This week, 10TV News HD has a series of special reports about lead exposure, culminating with a free toy testing and lead screening at the Columbus Public Health headquarters.

It's no wonder that parents such as Dawn Delpico are alarmed.

"It's really very scary," said Delpico, a nurse who has seen the effects of lead exposure firsthand.

As frightening as the recall statistics are, the scarier thing, it turns out, might be the toys that haven't been pulled from store shelves.

Delpico, a 38-year-old nursing manager at The Ohio State University Medical Center, thought she had eliminated the threat in her Galloway home several weeks ago when she went through the toys belonging to her 4-year-old son, Dominick.

Checking each item against recent recall lists, she ended up filling three grocery bags with toys deemed to be unsafe.

"I just devastated his world initially," Delpico said, recalling the dent she made in Dominick's beloved Thomas the Tank Engine collection.

"We talked about it, and he seems to be dealing with it better now."

Then Bill Radosevich showed up.

Delpico had accepted an offer from 10TV News to have the nationally-recognized lead expert inspect a sampling of the remaining toys in her home.

"We'll check them all, to be safe," Radosevich said.

The company he works for, Thermo Fisher Scientific, developed the Niton XRF Analyzer, a portable scanner that the Consumer Product Safety Commission employs in its initial screenings for toxic metals.

Radosevich has used the hand-held device to conduct lead tests for a number of organizations, including Consumer Reports.

In Delpico's house, Radosevich worked his way through Dominick's toys with the youngster's help. Radosevich aimed his gunlike scanner at each one, and then checked the readout on a small, color-coded screen.

"Red means lead," he said.

One of the first toys tested, a red Thomas engine, contained lead paint -- but just 15 parts per million, well below the 600-parts-per-million safety threshold established by the federal government.

In children, high lead levels can cause anemia, muscle weakness and attention-deficit problems, impair growth, and reduce the ability to understand language, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lead sometimes shows up in paint, even though the federal government has effectively forbidden residential use since 1978. Lead also is used to make plastic more flexible and to give it bright colors.

The presence of lead isn't automatically a problem, but scientists warn that sunlight and cleaning products can break the chemical bond between lead and plastic, forming a dust that can be inhaled or ingested.

Radosevich determined that Dominick's Sit 'N Spin was perfectly safe. So were his Thomas storage case and the plastic eyes on his stuffed Elmo.

It didn't take long, though, for Radosevich to find lead levels exceeding the federal standard.

The knobs on Dominick's Foosball table? One thousand parts per million.

The springs on his rocking horse? About 4,100 parts per million, almost seven times the federal limit.

A bin of colorful plastic blocks offered mixed results: Most were lead-free, but each of the yellow and orange ones contained 1,200 parts per million.

Eventually, Radosevich turned his attention to some jewelry belonging to Dominick's 8-year-old sister, Haley.

"This piece," he said, "is 60,000 parts per million" -- 100 times the federal limit.

A check of several other pieces produced similar results.

"My sister is going to be sad, because she loves this jewelry," said Dominick, who knows that lead is bad, even if he's not completely sure why.

Delpico said she was surprised by the exercise.

"Obviously, a couple little things with lead in it -- that's not a problem," she said. "It's amazing, though, what's surrounding you every day, and all of that added together can have a huge impact. It can make kids very sick."

Delpico said her children have been checked for lead in the past, as part of routine exams. Those blood tests didn't turn up any problems, but she said she'll remain vigilant.

"We're probably sitting in a roomful of other things that could harm us that we don't know about," she said. "You just have to keep living your life until somebody discovers things and then deal with it as it happens."

It was a lot for Dominick to take in, especially as he watched his mother gather up another batch of toys for disposal.

"I can't believe you have to take this big of a thing," he said as a plastic wagon disappeared into a bag.

Radosevich showed him the readout on the scanner's flip-up screen.

"OK," the youngster said. "It's red."

On Tuesday, find out why local day care centers are not immune to tainted toys.

See what toy retailers are doing to protect customers on Wednesday.

Pediatric HealthSource on Thursday explains what medical professionals can do to help children who have been exposed to dangerous amounts of lead.

On Friday from 2 p.m. through 6:30 p.m., 10TV News and the Columbus Public Health Department offers free toy testing and lead screenings at the agency's headquarters, located at 240 Parsons Ave.

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