RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
So, the safest thing is to trash those wads of Christmas wrap or recycle them if you can. Also, in your health today, we're looking out for you. What about the toys inside the packages. At a holiday crafts fair last week in Berkeley, California, a consumer watchdog group offered free lead testing of toys for worried parents. NPR's Deborah Franklin went. And she shares how to check for lead in kids' stuff.
DEBORAH FRANKLIN: In a busy park, three adults in Santa hats are standing behind a rickety card table. One of the Santas holds up a lead detecting x-ray gun that looks like a Star Trek phaser. She touches its muzzle to a baby's brightly colored plastic music box.
Ms. JOANNE CONNOLLY (Center for Environmental Health): OK. So, the first thing I'm going to test is the red, because oftentimes we - when we do find lead it's often in the red colors. So, I'll start there.
FRANKLIN: That's Joanne Connolly or as she calls herself, Safe Santa. Connolly works with the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health. She explains that some companies outside the U.S. still use lead and paint. Plus lead sometimes gets added as a stabilizer to some plastics or vinyl, which is why it can show up in children's cheap jewelry, backpacks or toys. The verdict on baby Pamela's music box comes quickly.
Ms. CONNOLLY: And it came up for none detected, which is really good.
Unidentified Male Speaker: That's good.
Ms. CONNOLLY: So, this is a very clean toy.
Unidentified Male Speaker: Good.
Ms. CONNOLLY: Very glad for you. Pamela's been holding a really clean toy.
FRANKLIN: It goes that way all afternoon. Stroller toys - clean, skateboards - clean. Until I pull out my favorite toy from childhood. A beat-up, stuffed clown from the 1960s with stringy orange hair, and a peanut-plastic face. OK. So, maybe a little scary now, with his eyebrows gone, but is he dangerous? Santa number two, Jason DeGusman(ph), turns the x-ray gun on the clown doll's mouth.
Mr. JASON DEGUSMAN (Center for Environmental Health): We're testing the red paint on his lips. And we're going to see here, this actually has a little more lead - 800 and ooh. OK. It's going up.
FRANKLIN: The lead meter tops out at around 850 parts per million for the clown. That's just a quick reading, and probably not dangerously high, DeGusman says.
Mr. DEGUSMAN: But, definitely he does have some lead in it.
FRANKLIN: Michael Green, who directs the Center for Environmental Health, says he isn't surprised. Lead's a cheap ingredient. And back when my clown was made, people weren't as conscious of the dangers to a child's developing brain. And then, just as people were becoming more aware, toy production went global. In 2007 lead paint on some Thomas the Tank Engines that were partly made in China led to a major recall. And there were many more; lead had snuck back into toys in a big way, says Michael Green.
Mr. MICHAEL GREEN (Director, Center for Environmental Health): When there are maybe 10 different companies who have some role in making one toy, it's very difficult for a company to really be in control of their supply chain.
FRANKLIN: But they're going to have to get better control. A new law goes into effect February 10th that will greatly tighten lead restrictions in children's products. The question, says Green, is whether the problem will get worse before it gets better.
Mr. GREEN: Unfortunately, what we suspect is that in some cases companies are trying to sell off their old stock before February 10th, so that they can actually get something for it.
FRANKLIN: The big concern is for babies and toddlers who put toys in their mouths. Green says it's impossible to tell by looking whether a toy has lead, but if you're really worried about your child's favorite you don't need an x-ray gun, $5 will get you a lead test-kit at your local hardware store.
Mr. GREEN: It's not precise, like the instrument that we're using here today. But if it turns bright red, then you'll know that it's got a lot of lead, and if it doesn't you'll know that it's not likely to.
FRANKLIN: Green says the Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a current list of recalled toys on its website. You can check that too.
Mr. GREEN: It's important to not create a sense of fear around this, especially because we are finding fewer toys and fewer other children's products with lead than we did last year at this time.
FRANKLIN: Verify, but don't panic. It's Christmas, get out there and play. Deborah Franklin, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.
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