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Injury Prevention and Safety

Lead paint in toys



There has been a recent recall of toys made in China that have lead in the paint. We have a few of the Thomas trains on the recall list. I have two very large bins that I keep the trains in. I have hundreds of dollars worth of tracks/trains/buildings and other pieces because I have three sons of a wide age range and have been collecting the wooden Thomas Trains and adding to the setup for years. We often set up the entire living room and dining room with a layout. The youngest son is no longer of an age where he puts toys in his mouth so I am not worried about him chewing on the recalled trains. But since the contaminated train pieces have been mixed in with all of the other tracks/trains/buildings, etc, has the lead come off on all the other pieces? Also, since my children are no longer of an age to put the trains in their mouths, what is the REALISTIC concern here? I want my children and of course any children visiting the house who want to play trains to be safe, but I also don`t want to go over board and throw out everything, especially when we enjoy it so much.


It is really difficult to determine what risk your children and others would run by playing with the toys. Lead enters the body mainly through the lungs and ingestion, where it is then stored principally in the bones. Adults absorb only about 10% of the lead to which they are exposed, while children absorb 50% or more, depending upon whether or not they are anemic or calcium deficient. There is no safe level of lead

Air contamination from the toys is unlikely. However, it is possible that children playing with the toys might snack on foods using their hands, which have picked up lead from the paint on the toys, and thereby take in lead. Liability is another issue of concern since you know the toys are contaminated with lead paint, yet knowingly might allow children to be exposed to an environmental toxin.

It would be safest to discard of the toys or to have the old paint removed safely by an expert and replaced with non-toxic paint. If you decide to retain the toys, it would be a good idea to prohibit all snacking while playing with the trains and also to make sure that hands are washed thoroughly with soap and water after playing with the trains before anyone goes on to another activity, even if it is not eating, in order to limit the spread of lead.

This probably is not what you want to hear, but the fact remains that lead is a nervous system toxin, whose negative effects on the brain, learning and behavior cannot be reversed fully with treatment. Your concern is appropriate both for your family and others.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University