Toy recalls: What parents and educators should know

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In the past week almost one million toys were recalled. The culprit: choking hazards and possible lead paint. Children’s toys make up 40 percent of the consumer product recall list in the U.S. WOSU went to a local day care facility to find out what it does to monitor such recalls.

Preschoolers at one of Ohio State University’s Child Care centers play inside during the August heat wave. Some stack wooden blocks; others appear to play house and a few splash cups and plates in a trough of water.

These toys are what Maggie Summers described as “open-ended” toys – or the kind that can be used from several months of age through kindergarten. Summers is the OSU Child Care Program director, and said those kinds of toys pose fewer problems for children.

“Sometimes staying away from perhaps some of the more popular kinds of characters and toys will move you away from toys that have a lot of parts, plastic, paint, those kinds of things,” Summers said.

Some of last week’s recalls involved Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer characters which are very popular among children. Fisher-Price recalled more than 900,000 of those toys for possible excessive lead paint. And The Orvis Company recalled 1,500 plush toys because the eyes and noses could easily come off and cause children to choke.

Gary Smith is the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children’s Hospital. He said not only should parents be mindful when buying toys from stores, but also when purchasing them from auction websites. He said that’s because many used toys have been or could be recalled.

“The seller really should be checking to make sure this isn’t a recalled product before putting it up for sale. And there should be a mechanism where potential buyers can check to make that product is safe and hasn’t been recalled,” Smith said.

OSU Child Care centers do not order used toys. Summers said they get their toys from reputable educational suppliers.

“We feel more confident with those kinds of suppliers who are looking at the materials determining safety for different age levels. The materials aren’t marketed in the same way as they are say at a Toys-R-Us. So we’re looking at perhaps some different kinds of qualities in the toys than parents might be,” Summers said.

But she said this does not mean workers can disregard possible recalls. Summers said OSU facilities receive monthly newsletters about toy recalls and monitor the federal recall website.

“We’ll do a check of our rooms to see if we happen to have any of those toys,” Summers said.

Toy manufacturers are not required to test toys for safety. Children’s Hospital’s Gary Smith said the only way to know of a potential hazard is when something goes wrong. And Smith said that’s why parents and educators should stay on top of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall list.

“Clearly the technology is there for people to do it, but it’s a step that many people simply don’t take,” Smith said.

Summers said OSU centers take additional steps to keep children safe. She said before a toy gets to a child it is tested with a choke tube – a plastic tube the size of a child’s esophagus. She said if something can fit completely in the tube then it could cause young children and babies to choke.

“If something can fit into it width wise, but it’s very, very long obviously that might be uncomfortable, but it’s not really going to go down and get stuck. So it gives you the opportunity to actually test and say this one looks a little bit too small we’re going to hold it until later,” Summers said.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than two children’s toys are recalled each week in the U.S.