With holiday shopping on the horizon, you might find yourself standing in front of toy store shelves paralyzed with indecision, while trying to figure out whether the item you want to buy is safe.
And even though toymakers must make sure they produce toys that meet the safety standards of Health Canada, sometimes unsafe toys manage to make their way into the marketplace. The good news is that new legislation will make it easier for Canadians to choose toys that won’t harm children. In June, Canada’s Health Minister, Leona Aglukkag, introduced the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which gives the Government of Canada the power to remove dangerous products from store shelves, including toys and other children’s products.
“As a mom, the new legislation gives me more confidence in the toys and products I give my own child,” the health minister said during the announcement. The new law should also make Sarah Blades’ job easier. “Thanks to this legislation, fewer hazardous items will be showing up on store shelves,” says Sarah, a health promotion specialist with Child Safety Link, a children’s injury prevention program serving Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and based at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
She points to toys containing the heavy metals lead and cadmium as the most toxic offenders, whether they’re present in the toys’ construction materials, paint or covering, or in children’s jewellery.
“Over time, heavy metals can be dangerous to young children and can make them sick,” says Sarah, who advises not letting a child suck on any type of toy or product unless you’re sure it’s safe. Liquid-filled teething rings can sometimes contain enough bacteria to cause an infection if a child bites through the ring and swallows the liquid. To learn whether a toy or product has been recalled because it’s toxic or otherwise not safe, Sarah directs parents to Health Canada’s website, healthycanadians.gc.ca. Click on Kids’ Health & Safety, then choose Toy Safety; from there, you can also access Health Canada’s Consumer Product Recall web page.
“It’s a good idea to be vigilant when checking a toy’s safety, regardless of where it was made,” says Sarah. “And trust your instinct. If the paint is flaking or something doesn’t seem right about a toy or product, let Health Canada know so it can investigate.”
If you discover you do have a toxic or unsafe toy or children’s product in your house, store it out of child’s reach. A Health Canada representative can tell you how to properly dispose of it.
If you suspect your child has been poisoned by lead after chewing on a toy, call 911. Symptoms after prolonged exposure include: stomach pain or cramping, aggressive behaviour, anemia, constipation, headaches, hearing loss, low appetite and energy, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Very high levels of lead may cause vomiting, a staggering walk, muscle weakness, seizures or a coma. A blood test will determine whether your child has lead poisoning.
Health Canada offers these tips to help you choose and use toys safely:
LOOK AT LABELS
Buy toys that come with contact information from the manufacturer or importer so you can contact them if you have any concerns. Read and follow the age advisory, warnings, safety messages and assembly instructions.
KNOW HOW YOUR CHILD PLAYS
Young children, especially those under three years of age, frequently put things in their mouth. To prevent choking, keep small toys, balls or loose toy parts that older children play with out of reach.
AVOID TOYS WITH CORDS
If a toy comes with a cord that’s long enough to wrap around a child’s neck, especially if it’s stretchy or sticky, it poses a strangling risk.
STORE TOYS SAFELY
Keep all toys, especially plush and soft ones, away
from heat sources. The toys could catch fire and burn a child.