It's a tough year to be a toy-buying parent. In recent months, almost 25 million mostly Chinese-made toys have been recalled because they have dangerous amounts of lead or magnets--which can cause intestinal damage when swallowed--in them. Then there were Aqua Dots, pulled when it was discovered that the popular beads were coated with a toxic chemical that metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate, or GHB--the date-rape drug. Last week California filed suit against 20 toy companies, alleging that they had knowingly exposed kids to unlawful levels of lead.
The toy industry says it has learned its lesson, is retesting toys and stepping up its quality control. "This will probably wind up being the safest holiday ever for toys," says Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association. "There's every reason for consumers to be confident." Possibly. But as late as mid-November, the Center for Environmental Health (cehca.org) in California was finding illegally high levels of lead in toys that were on the shelves. Because of globalization, environmental problems from anywhere in the world can send dangerous products to the neighborhood store. Here's how to shop safely.