OT professor tests holiday toys for toxins

Toy testing
Quinnipiac University’s XRF analyzer shows dangerously high levels of lead in a plastic, malleable toy.

Dec. 10, 2013 - One Quinnipiac University professor is taking an extra step to ensure children have a safe and happy holiday this year.

Martha Sanders, associate professor of occupational therapy at the School of Health Sciences, recently used an XRF analyzer to detect levels of toxins in toys collected at Quinnipiac's Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. All toys deemed safe will be donated to the Pediatric Primary Care Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital later this month.  

Sanders picked up a dice game from the pile of donated toys and held the trigger down on the analyzer, which resembled a handheld price scanner. After a moment, a red light appeared.

"Oh, you see that?" said Sanders. "It just went off."  

The analyzer found the lead count in the leather dice case was 23 parts per million. According to Sanders, the toy was technically well below the acceptable lead limit of 100 ppm set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2011, but it was still the largest amount she saw that day and set the toy aside.  

Lead is a neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to babies, toddlers and young children who are more likely to ingest it by putting small toys and jewelry in their mouths. The toxin then travels to the stomach, eventually ends up in the blood and circulates back to the brain, where it impacts cognition skills. Studies have shown lead can cause impaired learning, aggression and delayed growth at lower levels than previously thought.  

Leaded paint is outlawed in the United States, but Sanders said parents still need to be wary of imported or older toys that might contain lead. She suggests that parents don't buy any toys from flea markets and avoid old electronics, cheap children's jewelry and dollar store items.

 According to Sanders, parents should also keep up to date with the news and sign up for toy recall alerts on the CPSC website.  

Based on previous testing, Sanders has identified some of the worst offenders: plastic fruit, old toy cars and cheap building block toys. Soft plastics and toys painted in bright colors like red and yellow are more likely to contain higher amounts of lead because lead chromate is sometimes used as a color stabilizer, she said.