Old Toys and Lead Contamination

Updated on May 21, 2009
D.M. asks from Lincoln, CA
16 answers

My mother in law has saved all of my husband's old toys from 40 years ago and wants to pull them out for my 20 month old to play with them. He still occassionally puts toys in his mouth too. Most recently, she's suggested old match box and hot wheels cars. How can I learn more about whether these old tosy may contain lead based paint? I'm trying to be cautious so that I gather the info without hurting her feelings needlessly.

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answers from Sacramento on

Hi D., my mom and I were just having a conversation about the same thing! Apparently, there is a lead testing kit, that I think someone mentioned is available at hardware stores. My mom has one. SHe said that it comes with some sort of liquid that can be swabbed and based on the color of the liquid, I think, the test will confirm whether the item has lead.

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answers from Redding on

Dear D.,
One thing I do know....
Some of those old toys can be worth quite a bit of money.
Do the checking for lead, etc but you might want to put them up for your son to appreciate when he's a little older.
Hot Wheels are probably okay except that their tires can pop off and you wouldn't want your son choking on them.

I'm 46 and it's a miracle our generation even survived with some of the toys we had. Lawn Darts come to mind.
Spirograph had cute little push pins in the kit and I tried to convince my sister to let me pierce her ears with them. They looked like earrings. I know that sounds mean, but she darn near cut one of my fingers off with the hedge clippers. Not to mention the trip to the ER the time she split my head open after throwing a bowl of strawberries at me. Childhood was dangerous in the "old days".
See what you can find out about the lead thing. I wouldn't be overly cautious, your husband played with the toys and turned out okay. I don't think you'd hurt any feelings by saying you'd like to wait until your son is a bit older because the toys could be valuable and you'd like for him to have them and really appreciate that they were "Daddy's" toys when he gets old enough to understand.

Let us know what you find out.
Best wishes!

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answers from San Francisco on

How fun that your mil saved your husband's old toys. Im just amazed how many people suggested you find out how much they are worth. Its all about money these days. Imagine how much more fun your son will get out of them with his chilren instead of selling them. As for the lead paint part. This suject just irritates me to no end. Im 40 and my thought is unless children are chewing on items 24 hours a day and swallowing the paint chips then ok there is a concern. However, We all grew up with lead paint on our walls and were exposed to all kinds of stuff and we all turned out ok??? Or not? The air we breath is no better. The smog we are exposed to is so out of control. I agree with one response. Display the toys for now untill your son is old enough to enjoly them. I would be more concerened about pieces coming off then then the lead paint. I just think we get a little over board with all of this. My older son had everything in his mouth as a baby and he is a bright and curious little boy. Knows more then most kids his age. So what does that say? The dirt kids play in is harmful. We can also over protect our children too much and that can affect them for the rest of their lives too. enjoy this time. I still have my barbies and no girls. LOL

SAHM with 2 amazing fun loving little boys. 3.5yrs & 11 months running around. I have the best job in the the world.

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answers from San Francisco on

Hi, D. M--

The article below is from Yahoo News dated December 5, 2007, with a comment from Dr. Joseph Mercola. Dr. Mercola responds to your concern about lead contamination. The information may also be shown to family members.

For added peace of mind, I am also sharing information regarding a supplement called Natural Cellular Defense that removes toxins; heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic; and carcinogens. It is 100% natural, safe, and science-based and carries FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation. Please visit www.mywaiora.com/502042.

Many Toys Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Tests on 1,200 children’s items revealed that more than one-third contained lead and other potentially dangerous chemicals such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

The study, directed by the Environmental Health Project of the Ecology Center in Michigan, also found that jewelry products were the most likely to contain high levels of lead.

Other items, such as bedroom slippers, bath toys and card-game cases were also tainted, some with as much as five times the standard safety level of lead. One Hannah Montana card-game case, for instance, had lead levels of 3,056 parts per million.

The study was conducted to spur government officials to take action against tainted toys. Millions of toys, most of them made in China, have already been recalled in 2007.

Sources: Yahoo News December 5, 2007

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Lead was supposedly banned for use in U.S. products marketed to children in 1978, but that doesn’t stop U.S. companies from importing lead-laced toys and selling them with fervor. Up to 80 percent of toys sold in the United States are manufactured in China.

Meanwhile, there is a loophole in the ban that still allows lead to legally exist in your child’s toys -- even those made here in the United States -- and that is plastic.

The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. This may explain the high levels of lead found in children’s jewelry.

As children are well known for putting anything and everything into their mouths, their toys simply must be pure. Children are more susceptible to lead absorption than adults, and even low levels of lead exposure have been linked to:

Decreased intelligence
Impaired neurobehavioral development
Decreased stature and growth
Impaired hearing acuity
Yet, lead is not the only chemical that you need to worry about contaminating your children’s toys. Other toxins found in toys include:

Mercury: A known neurotoxin that can harm your child’s developing brain.
Cadmium: A known carcinogenic. Long-term exposure to low levels of cadmium can contribute to kidney disease, lung damage and fragile bones, and animal studies also suggest that it may lead to liver disease, high blood pressure, and nerve or brain damage.
Arsenic: Long-term exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer. Exposure to low levels of arsenic can cause nausea and vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, and a sensation of "pins and needles" in hands and feet, and over the long term can cause darkening of the skin and the appearance of small "corns" or "warts" on the palms, soles, and torso.
Phthalates: Used in soft plastic toys and baby bottles, these chemicals can mimic or block sex hormones, causing disruption of your endocrine system and early puberty in children.

How to Find Safe Toys for Your Kids

The good thing about all of the media coverage on this issue is that many parents are becoming very choosy about the toys they buy.

Here are some tips to help make sure the toys your children play with are safe.

Seek out toy-making companies that still maintain quality and safety in their products. Be sure to ask questions about their toys, such as what types of chemicals are used in their production.
Look for organic and “green” environmentally friendly toys that use beeswax-based coatings, natural vegetable dyes and organic, chemical-free fabrics and materials (such as wool, cotton and bamboo).
Support companies that use third-party testing of their products for lead and other heavy metals.
Toys that are painted should always be labeled as having “lead-free paint,” but still avoid buying painted toys made outside of the United States or Europe.
Get creative. Books, sports equipment, music, and even cardboard boxes that can be turned into forts make great, safe alternatives to traditional “toys.”

Take care.

E. C

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on




answers from Sacramento on

If you're really concerned about it you can contact the manufacturer. However, your husband played with these toys and from what you've said appears to be doing fine. You can wait to give your son small cars until he's old enough to know not to put them in his mouth. If the cars are small you can explain to mother in law that you don't want him to choke on them. Or just tell her the truth about your concerns. Either way, he will still get his dad's toys. Mother in law has probably been waiting for this day for years. She can wait a little longer if you're concerned.



answers from San Francisco on

Save the toys until he is old enough to see the value in them as collectibles. Display them on a high shelf in his room or make a diplay in a shadow box for a room decoration. When he is old enough to not put them in his mouth, he will be less likely to destroy them. I am sure Grandma is dying to see the toys she saved being passed on the her son's son. If you want to do something nice for her, Take a nice picture of him with some of the older toys, (while you are watching closely), this way she can see him with the toys everyday. Then save them until he can value them as much as you all do!
You are so kind to thinks of her feelings as well as the safety of your family. Best of luck!



answers from Sacramento on

Hi D.,
I believe you can have them tested??? Of course, I'm not sure where but I would bet other mom's will be able to tell you. Not sure but you could also re-paint them??
It might just be better to save them for your child till he's a little older & not putting them in his mouth...
Some of those old toys can be worth something......Usually only if in the original pkg's but you never know..they could be worth something when your child is older.
Good Luck,



answers from San Francisco on

You may want to look into how much those "old toys" are worth! You would be amazed! The next time she pulls one of the cars out raise an eyebrow and say, "Wow, that is a $300 car, can I play with it?" (Yes, I am one to use sarcasm) Or...put together a basket of toys that ARE appropriate, put a big bow on it and give it to her to keep at Gma's house. Discuss with her your concerns about lead, suggest putting the cars in a showcase as a Christmas gift for your husband, afterall if they were his toys he may have fond memories of them! That way he can enjoy them, they won't get destroyed and maybe years from now they can be passed onto your son.



answers from Stockton on

Go to the paint dept. at a hardware store & ask for a lead test kit - buy 3. They are easy to use and take 1 minute!
Wipe down the old toys with disinfectant and rinse before playtime. Also check for loose parts that could come off. I'd put the Hotwheels away until munchkin is about 3 or 4.
My son LOVES hotwheels at 4 1/2!
Stuffed animals can be washed in a lingere bag on Gentle cycle - unless they're filled with walnut shells. Tumble dry on low or hang outside to dry.



answers from Redding on

You are nice to be concerned about your MIL's feelings. I made such a big deal worrying out loud about bad plastics that my poor MIL quietly took toys back home with her that she had brought and I felt so bad when I found out.
My feelings on the issue are starting to change. There was a lot of lead around when we were kids and we are fine-- I think it is just good not to let them chew on the potential lead. But playing with his daddy's toys might be fun for him when he is older.
I have bought the lead tests-- any hardware-type store will sell them.


answers from San Francisco on

There are test kits that check for lead. We got ours from the hardware store in the paint section.



answers from San Francisco on

Hi, D.!

You are right to be concerned about potential lead exposure on old toys, especially ones over 20 years old that likely do contain lead-tainted paint.

You can search the CPSC website (http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html) for recalls on specific toys.

There is a ton of info available about lead exposure in young children and the health effects. Center for Environmental Health has some great info (cehca.org). They also have a device that can test the lead content in items, so if you're local to the Bay Area (they are in Oakland) you can bring items to their office for testing. Just call ahead of time to arrange this.

Good luck.




answers from San Francisco on

These toys could be considered collectors items, and as such, would probably not be the most appropriate for a toddler anyway. You can suggest to mum-in-law that you guys wait until the child is a few years older. Personally I think the older toys were the greatest! I'd wait and introduce them when the child can appreciate the true value of them, say 7 or 8. Then you can go thru ebay together, or an antique toy book, and have fun looking up the cars together.



answers from San Francisco on

They have lead testers for just that kind of purpose. I was given them at my baby shower, so sorry that I don't know where to get them. I think the drugstore?



answers from San Francisco on

Hi D.,

I would save those old toys for your son when he grows up. Some of those hot wheels are worth some money.

The better condition the more they are worth.

It is important to keep your little one healthy so he stays healthy.

I have some wellness tips if you are interested.

Have a great day.

N. Marie

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