George Raine, The San Francisco Chronicle

The plastic rings that
7-month-old Lina Lasden puts in her tiny mouth came back negative for
toxicity when the lady with the big X-ray fluorescence spectrometer
measured the toys' chemical composition at Union Square Wednesday. And
that was a relief to her mom. Sort of.

"When they have this test at every police station and every toy
store where I can test something before I buy it, or they can test the
stuff before they sell it, then it will be really effective," said
Cynthia Lasden of San Francisco.

News of dangerous toys and their recalls in recent months have moved
product and food safety to the front burner in the United States.
Accordingly, interest was high at the square where, adjacent to the
Christmas tree, the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the
Center for Environmental Health tested toys that people brought with
them – some of them a dozen or more, others with only one.

"It's a huge discussion among parents," said Lasden, a San Francisco
public school teacher on a sabbatical. "My father e-mails me every
other day, telling me to get rid of this or that."

The toy examination – testers are looking for lead, arsenic, cadmium
or other toxic compounds – will be repeated Tuesday and next Thursday
at the Department of the Environment, 11 Grove St., from 10 a.m. to

As the free testing was under way at Union Square, a Michigan
nonprofit group, the Ecology Center, announced that it, along with
other groups around the country, had tested 1,268 toys and found that
35 percent contain lead, which can lead to irreversible damage to the
developmental and nervous systems in children.

The results and more information are posted on a Web site, , which was overwhelmed by visitors on Wednesday.

"The government is not testing for toxic chemicals in toys, and too
many manufacturers are not self-regulating, so we created the nation's
first toy database to help inform and empower consumers," said Tracey
Easthope, director of the center's Environmental Health Project, in Ann

The Toy Industry Association, the trade association for toy
producers and importers in North America, called the report misleading,
and was critical about the type of testing used.

"The Toy Industry Association views the report from
as misleading consumers about potential health hazards. The presence of
inaccessible substances in trace amounts does not mean they are
harmful. Their own disclaimer recognizes that (the) ratings do not
provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with
any individual toy or children's product, or any individual element or
related chemical," the association said in a statement.

The center tested for elements on the surface of toys, saying the
results are accurate within 25 percent, as opposed to what is called
the migration standard, or testing for what comes out of products, said

"We think people have a right to know what is in the product," said
Easthope. "We are providing that information. And with products not
having to be labeled, there is no way for parents to know what is in a

Easthope said 17 percent of the toys tested had levels of lead above
the 600 parts-per-million federal standard that would cause a recall of
lead paint. Thirty-three percent of jewelry examined contained levels
above 600.

Among the toys that tested above that limit was the Hannah Montana
Pop Star Card Game, with a case tested at 3,056 parts per million.
Cardinal Industries Inc., which sells the game, did not respond to an
inquiry for comment.

The study found 28 percent of toys tested negative for dangerous chemicals.

"We want to make the point that toy manufacturers can make products
without any hazardous chemicals in them and we want them to," said

At Union Square Wednesday, Caroline Cox, the research director at
the Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit group concerned with
environmental and consumer health hazards, said most of the toys that
16 people brought in Wednesday morning tested negative for dangerous
chemicals, although some jewelry was 30 percent lead and a child's
overnight bag had high lead levels, too.

"The issue is there are so many toys out there and lots of them are
just fine," said Cox. "But because there are so many of them, many of
them have a problem and parents cannot tell by looking which is which,"
she said.

"The important thing is that lead is not necessary for any of these
toys. It is perfectly possible to make toys without lead in them. There
is no reason why we should not be doing that."

Karen Jacob of San Bruno had purchased the offending overnight bag
for her 4-year-old daughter, Keara. She had bought it online, but knew
it was troubled when it arrived in a package carrying a Prop. 65
warning – the state requirement for businesses to notify Californians
about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase.
There was no such warning at the time she purchased the bag.

The bag had more than 3,000 parts per million of lead, said Jacob.

The bag – and three others, for Keara's cousins – cost only $8.
They're being returned with a message from Jacob: "I told them the
warning should be when you make the purchase."

10 toys with most lead

The 10 toys with the most lead and the companies that produced them:

Brush Your Teeth! RobotTatiti

Dinner Party tea setStarletz

Large ceramic tea setStarletz

Elmo's Take-Along Card GamesCardinal Industries

Bugs backpack/bagTyrrell Katz

My Pasture Play SetShuang Ma Toys

Shoe (style 443559)Circo

Go Diego GoNick Jr.

Fairies backpack/bagTyrrell Katz

Construction equipment backpack/bagTyrrell Katz


What you can do

— To read the latest report on toxic toys, go to .

— To test your own toys, San Francisco's Department
of the Environment will be conducting free testing Tuesday and next
Thursday at 11 Grove St., from 10 a.m. to noon.

Source: Chronicle Research