Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal, January 10, 2009

Harry Potter. Barbie. Tinkerbell. SpongeBob SquarePants.

Kids love toys with popular characters like these. But are they safe?
Do they contain dangerous levels of lead that can make them sick?

That's what parents lined up to find out on Saturday at a free toy
testing clinic at the Connection Center, part of the Marin County
Health & Wellness Campus in San Rafael.

On its Web site,,
the Marin County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program has posted
a list of toys that have been recalled, including well-known brands and
characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George and Thomas the Tank

"The list is alarming," said Michelle Fadelli, communications manager
for the First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission, one of the
co-sponsors of the testing clinic along with Marin's prevention program
and the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland.

"Even infant teething rings have been found with lead in them," she said. "It's outrageous."

On Saturday, the toys were tested by an "X-ray fluorescence analyzer,"
a gun-like device that gives instant readings on lead or other
hazardous materials.

Lindsey Ladd, 28, who teaches baby yoga in Marin, was worried about a
brightly colored plastic train toy that she'd bought earlier in the

"We got it at a discount store, and we're a little iffy about it," she
said as she waited her turn with her 16-month-old daughter, Lorelai, in her arms. "My husband and I thought we should bring it in and have it tested."

Sure enough.

"This is not looking good," said Joanne Connelly of the Center for
Environmental Health as she pressed the testing gun down on the toy,
quickly determining that it had twice the federally acceptable level of
lead in it. "I wouldn't use this toy at all."

Connelly kept the toy for further testing and gave the mother what she
paid for it: $2 in cash. Under the program, new toys that test positive
for lead are eligible for a cash exchange of up to $25.

Nabil Alsoufi, coordinator of the county lead poisoning prevention
program, pointed out that lead poisoning is the most common
environmental illness in the state, and that the youngest children,
prenatal through the age of 5, are at the greatest risk because their
brains and nervous systems are still forming.

"It's a major problem because it's invisible," he said. "There are no visible symptoms."

He urged parents to be particularly cautious about metal toys,
children's costume jewelry, brightly colored plastic toys and wooden
toys that have been painted. Lead has been found in toys made in China,
but from other places as well.

But lead poisoning is treatable as well as preventable, which is what Saturday's testing was all about.

"I thought there would be a long line so I came early," said Katie
Philipson of Greenbrae, who brought her 20-month-old daughter's plastic
toys in a pair of shopping bags. "This is an incredible free service."


For information about the Marin County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and list of recalled toys, go online at Or call Nabil Alsoufi at 415-473-3254.

The Center for Environmental Health, 2201 Broadway, Suite 302, Oakland,
offers free toy testing by appointment from noon to 6 p.m. Mondays
through Thursdays through Jan. 30. Call 510-655-3900, ext. 310.