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November 09, 2007

How safe are our toys?

CpssI’m becoming increasingly concerned and frustrated about the safety of my children’s toys.

Ever since Widget was born, I have bought and advocated for the purchase of wooden and natural toys.  We buy responsibly, from small firms or those who have repeatedly assured moms and the public that their testing is frequent and thorough.  We make many of our own toys, out of pieces of scrap wood (okay, Grandpa makes many of those); PVC pipe and connectors; ribbon, yarn, boxes, and similar “found” materials, both to reduce our environmental load on the planet and my children’s exposure to the plastic crap that dominates the children’s toy market these days.  They also fit my bias towards toys and materials that encourage my children’s creativity, encourage them to ask questions, and can be used three ways.

We weathered the great Thomas Recall of ‘07, the Polly Pockets Debacle, and the Sesame Street/Elmo/Fisher Price Roundup with only limited damage.  Limited in our case meaning one measley James train and a stop sign were collected, declared “sick,” and sent to the “hospital” to be fixed.  All our other wooden trains are Ikea or Brio, so we felt pretty good about our trainyard escaping relatively unscathed.

That is, until I learned that the CPSC, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, has exactly ONE full-time product tester on staff.

That’s right, mamas.  There is ONE tester, in an office in Gaithersburg, spending his days dropping toys on the floor, checking the size of the little parts, swiping for lead, and otherwise making sure that the toys that our children are safe.

We have one of those too.  We call him “Dad.”

This scares the bejeebus out of me.  With ONE tester, how many of our toys are tested each year?  How many more slip through and are never tested?  I haven’t seen any recalls of IKEA toys, for instance.  Are they super-safe, or not tested?  I just can’t be sure, and it’s making me uneasy.  No, it’s making me furious.

As a result, I’ve tried to stick with the natural toys or big-name-brand toys like Fisher Price that I KNOW will be tested and any recall publicized.  It’s working … to some extent.  The toys are being tested, all right, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been recall-free.  In fact, Little Bear’s big Christmas gift, already bought and tucked away in the basement, has already been recalled due to small breakable parts.  Great.  Just Great.  I haven’t even opened the box yet, for heaven’s sake!  It was featured on the front page of their catalog this fall, and I confidently bought it as a fun situational toy for Little Bear and Widget to play in together!  Widget even helped me pick it out for Little Bear.  And now … a recall?  Thankfully, Fisher-Price is acting fast and offering a repair kit through the mail.  But it doesn’t increase my confidence in the company.  And this is a company I’ve loved since I was Little People-aged myself.  I want to boycott them, I really do, but the problems are clearly not confined to one major company like Fisher-Price or Mattel.

The question that I worry about is … what is the CPSC missing, with their one product tester?

This post also posted at Toddler Planet.

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