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Mattel recall rocks my world

Truman_dora_castle_200 By now, you've probably heard all about Mattel's recall of over a million toys that contain lead paint. When I first heard the Mattel recall news early this morning in between half-waking nursing sessions, I got a dull ache in my stomach. When I got up and looked at the list of affected toys in the paper today, well, I wanted to throw up. J0343 Go Diego Go Antarctic Rescue ... J0345 Go Diego Go Mountain Rescue ... J6762 Queen Mami ... J6765 Prince Diego ... it's as if someone took an inventory of my children's favorite toys. (In addition to Dora and Diego toys, Elmo, Ernie, Zoe and the rest of the Sesame Street gang are also well-represented in the list.) That's a lot of lead.

Everett_diego_toys_200 For months now, my husband and I have been musing about whether we should institute a family ban on products made in China; we just can't be sure that any of these things are safe. The recent discoveries have us sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. After all, Mattel is a big company with a brand name in need of protection -- what about those toys sold on the seasonal aisle at WalGreen's?  I hardly think anyone's busy checking the lead content in the Barbie Princess inflatable balls and knockoff Play-Doh. What if... urggh.

While I go around the house collecting these precious objects, I think: is it time to collect everything and switch entirely to wooden and handmade toys? I'm certainly about ready to throw up my hands in distress. My heart aches when I think of the fallout should I discover that the die-cast Thomas trains from Target have lead paint, too (my worst nightmare). If only I'd never developed the love affair my sons have with these dangerous things.

We've called our doctor's office and elected to get a lead test (with our pediatrician, Dr. Vestergaard, we can just go to the lab at Broadway Medical Clinic anytime and get the test), although she said the risk isn't huge. I doubt my kids will be greatly affected (physically) but I've lost all trust for the toymakers, and that feeling in the pit of my stomach keeps getting achier.


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There is a new book, A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni, about just this topic http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470116137.html and there was a story on Morning Edition

We have greatly reduced the amount of plastic and battery operated toys in our house and hope to continue to do so. We also have few “character” toys (Dora, Diego, Elmo, etc). At the same time, I too have bought the funny looking ball at Fred Meyer, and don’t necessarily check where other toys we buy (or are given) are from. I am also (so far) an unapologetic Target and Old Navy fan. There is no way that I can get a $5 t-shirt or placemat and it not be made in China.

Then I wonder about economics. I can (in theory) afford a $20 t-shirt from a local artist/store for me or my child, but can the average mama?

I hope you already knew about the Thomas the Train recall from June:


These recalls are making us sick. We've decided to go with only wooden toys from now on. . and those not made in China. Does anyone have a reliable source for which toys are guaranteed safe? Or which companies only use vegetable dye and produce their products in the USA?

There are SO MANY resources for safe, non-toxic wooden toys, many of them made in the USA.

My favorite company (out of Vermont) for beautiful toys that last forever: http://www.novanatural.com/
Not cheap, but sustainably made, living wage, heirloom quality toys made from natural materials. You can buy one of these toys to replace every 10 plastic creations you throw out.

Also, check out Speilwerk in Sellwood and Steiner Storehouse on Division. These stores can change the way you play!

Have fun...

I have to say, this is only one of many reasons I am happy I have been doing the whole homemade/wooden toy thing (for waldorf inspired parenting...)

But still it's so tough to see these recalls and realize how few parents are going to be aware and how many recalled toys will still be around for many years to come. Brett does a great job covering the whole recalled toy issues on his Dadtalk blog (how items get moved to clearance shelves, etc).

I do hope that these issues push people to be more discriminating about toys and where they come from. It would be great for us to buy less "Made In China". But watch out - I would venture to guess that 90% of what is on the market (especially in stores and especially plastic toys) is from china. Even many of the wooden toys (like Melissa & Doug) are made in china and you still need to check quality. (Online stores like Nova Natural are great source.) I try hard not to buy from china - but it's next to impossible. Still - the effort has to count for something. Some items I just throw my hands up.

Made in US or Europe toys are more expensive - but it's a good way to realize that our children don't need that many toys anyways. And less commercial driven as well. Less is more. And if we all bought heirloom quality wooden toys - we could pass them on for generations. That would be awesome (I think as I save my pennies for xmas)...

I think at leastn some of the toys at the Wooden Wagon website come from Germany. http://www.thewoodenwagon.com/aboutus.html

I think at leastn some of the toys at the Wooden Wagon website come from Germany. http://www.thewoodenwagon.com/aboutus.html

I prefer toys made of natural materials, but struggle with the extended friends and family gifts. I appreciate all gifts, don't get me wrong, but literally nine out of the last ten toy gifts that we received were plastic of some sort and made in China. My son is young, so everything goes into his mouth and that last thing I want to do is inadvertantly expose his to lead.

It's a great idea to have children under 6 tested for lead, anyway, since they often can be exposed through dust in older homes, contact with someone with lead dust on their clothing, contaminated dirt in gardens or play areas, or in their daycare centers or preschools. Here in Portland the Community Energy Project does a great job of education and sponsoring free lead testing monthly. Their website has a wealth of info:


You also get a lot of free stuff at their workshops like cleaning supplies, home test kits, seeds and more.

I think the Josiah Hill Clinic does most of their screenings--you can get your child tested there for free:

On a slightly related note, I'm sure this latest scare has some people renewing their paranoia about plastics. Portland mom Amy Karol recently posted about the ways she's begun eliminating plastic, especially from the kitchen:
There are some further resources listed in the comments to the post.

Good luck!

Married to a German, once our first child was born, I was given strict instructions from my husband that all our toys were to be wooden or cloth, as he had grown up with. He also wanted a cap on how many we have! I will admit, my mother was not happy with this at first (thought we were snoty and wanted expensive things...but she soon realized the value of such toys. I found a wonderful website of Euro toys, www.oompa.com, where at least you get points when you buy so that you can get a little something back.

All that being said, my oldest daughter now a bit older than 2, has started to recognize characters from the TV and books...so some plastic items have made there way into the house. But I think a few, even those from China, are OK....you can't not really get rid of every risk.....heck, I slept on the belly, had metal toys, was given benzodiazepines on occasion to sleep...and I made it OK.

Check out the UM Activistas site http://urbanmamas.typepad.com/activistas/ for some steps you can take if you've had enough of these recalls and want to see some action taken at the government level.

Thanks Andrea for passing on this info:

"Wanted to let all the concerned mamas out there know that they can get their toys (whether on the recent recall lists or not) tested for lead-based paint for free on Friday from 1-3 pm at the Community Energy Project (422 NE Alberta). There will also be free blood lead testing available with the results available immediately."

For more info: http://www.communityenergyproject.org/lead/

Mattel did it again: http://www.shareholder.com/mattel/news/20070814-259557.cfm

The recall includes "Cars" vehicles that contain lead based paint as well as Polly Pockets and other dolls that contain magnets that could be swallowed by our babes. We have a lot of the Polly Pockets around here, and I need to purge our toy boxes.

Here is a PDF link to a CSR (corporate social responsibility) publication, "CSR Asia" that I read for my job.


In this particular issue, the feature article is about the Mattel recalls. I think it's an interesting read, and it sheds some light on what's going on behind the scenes of the "made in China" label - how the lead gets there, etc.

thought some mamas might be interested.

ok, so now that i've gone through all of our toys and have a huge bag to purge (along with some plastic kids plates and cups that i want out of here too) where do i take it? some of the toys are just parts of bigger sets and some of the big sets are missing pieces. i don't know about everyone else but we have little toy pieces everywhere and sometimes it's hard to make a complete, usable set. i don't know if it's cool to just pass it on to good will but if not, i have no idea what to do with all this stuff!

any ideas?


Lisa on the Activistas site had a great idea of collecting all our toxic toys to send to Congress, to punctuate our point that we, their constituents, are not pleased with toxic toys ending up in our stores and homes. Interested? Check it out and leave a comment at:

I am starting to collect our toxic toys.

Hey Olivia,
Actually, we didn't have any of the toys on the recall list, but after going through all the Thomas trains a few weeks ago and now this, I just decided to scrap most of our plastic toys. So, they are in good shape just not all complete and now I need to figure out what to do with them.

Any ideas?

Good luck next weekend on HTC!!! Wish I was running this year, but I have an injury that forced me to bow out. Bummer...


Melanie, I'd just take them to the Goodwill Outlet (aka 'The Bins') -- I've purchased any number of incomplete sets of plastic toys there, though I'm now re-evaluating it, like you! there's one in Beaverton and one in Sellwood, on 17th and Ochoco (SE).

Okay, a heads up if you absolutely can't stay away from plastics: Both step2 and Little Tikes make the vast majority of their products in Ohio, and they label where items are made just in case. Step2 makes some toys in Korea, but they are not shipped to the US.

So I've been taking a close look at where the toys in our house are made, and relatively few are 'made in china' - more likely 'made in chile' or 'made in taiwan'. Most of our toys are wooden, but tend to be painted. I'm wondering if china is a symbol for lead paint right now in the way that nike was a symbol for sweatshop labor several years ago (even though all the major apparel manufacturers were doing the same practices). I feel a little confused ... I don't want to over-react but of course I don't want my child exposed to lead or other risks either. Does anyone have a resource for which countries have the best track records, or is 'made in the usa' the only way to be sure? That's going to be tough, especially considering daycare toys.

I think right now the watchdogs are so thick regarding these recalls that is going to be a long time before we see tainted toys again. At least Mattell stepped up voluntarily while this is going to cost them probably billions of dollars and missed production time. I think it is wise to not buy any Made in China toys for a bit until this is all worked out and maybe bring your toys to be tested, as Andrea suggested, but I think this will all die down. We have not ALWAYS been subjected to lead paint, and at some point, we will not be again. Of course, I would want to boycott China for the much more reasonable decisions they make, such as slaughtering 10s of thousands of dogs last year because there was a (very small) outbreak of rabies...or killing all of the crop eating song birds on a whim before realizing that said birds were also the preditors of crop eating insects....this seems to be a government of "let's not think this through before we do it" people, and I think these decisions have obviously been poor and bad for world economy and for the planet. So let's boycott China anyway.

I love the idea of sending them to Congress where they can hopefully be disposed of properly and an important point can be made. I am worried about the suggestion to take the possibly toxic toys to the Goodwill bins--as that still means someone else and/or their kids could be exposed to them, doesn't it?

I have two boys....so I have tons of cars and Thomas trains. Right now my main concern is the cars. Okay, so do I toss everything that says, "China" or do I just toss all the "Cars" cars. What about the other cars that say "China" on the bottom? I certainly won't give them to Goodwill...unexpecting Mother's/Father's who haven't gotten the message shouldn't come into contact with these things. What do we do? I suppose all that we can do is throw them in the trash. I am really angry about this.

I think the Goodwill suggestion above was in reference to Melanie's surplus of toys, not necessarily to the recalled toys, Thomas trains, etc. I think the recent recalls have promted us to go through our toy bins and purge anyway.

Toxic toys to Congress? Great idea. Extra non-toxic toys to Goodwill? Great idea, too!

I don't think it will necessarily be a long time before we see tainted toys again - it just may be a while before they are publicly called out and recalled. In the article I linked to earlier, the authors note that the recall will cost Mattel an estimated $30 million.

China is not necessarily solely at fault. Rather, it is the culture of globalization and capitalism and the endless search for financial shortcuts.

Also, toys made in other parts of the world are not necessarily more safe. Unfortunately, it is really hard to know (unless, as mentioned, they are local/Euro/wooden/etc.) Last year, some candy made in Mexico got recalled for high lead levels.

And, while I don't know how true it is, often time companies who do have to implement a large recall like this end up paying even closer attention to their factories and auditors and so on. Dunno. It's all really frustrating for sure. All comes back to buying local, but as we've discussed before..... ;)

It has been announced that Toys R Us is pulling all vinyl bibs from their shelves. It seems that several types have tested positive for lead in a couple of different tests. It seems that Wal-Mart earlier this year also recalled bibs made by the same manufacturer. The manufacturer is Hamco.

So, if you have any vinyl bibs from Toys R Us you can return them. If you have any from an unknown source that have cracked you should throw them away.

Just blogged this. I'm thankful we can be in this together. Thanks!

Nice blog.Now a days lead going a big problem in the toys.Especially Chinese toys are leading to a brain damage.

I think right now the watchdogs are so thick regarding these recalls that is going to be a long time before we see tainted toys again. At least Mattell stepped up voluntarily while this is going to cost them probably billions of dollars and missed production time. I think it is wise to not buy any Made in China toys.

I thought that toys should be made of the materials that make it, test so kids are in focus and there is very wooden toys are painted with non-toxic paint so it lasts

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