Toys for Tots volunteers experienced a moment of panic this holiday season when they thought they'd purchased a case of lead-tainted Barbies.
A mother who had received one of the dolls brought it back to the Toys for Tots distribution center in Goose Creek because she thought it was among the millions of toys recalled this year for risk of lead exposure.
Volunteers carefully checked the product number against the list of recalled toys and discovered their dolls were fine. But the experience illustrates the concern of parents and organizations such as Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army, which give toys to children in need.
Volunteers who sort toys according to the child's sex and age are also paying close attention to product recalls. Millions of toys made in China have been recalled this year for lead-based paint and other potential dangers, including parts that can cause choking or sharp edges that can cause cuts.
More than $22 billion worth of toys are sold in the United States each year, with toys made in China making up 70 percent to 80 percent, according to the Toy Industry Association.
It appears vendors and donors are paying attention to recalls because the local Salvation Army and Toys for Tots have not had to pull a large number of suspect toys.
"We haven't removed any toys yet and hopefully it remains that way," said 2007 Toys for Tots coordinator Gunnery Sgt. Michael Kirby.
The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program buys a lot of its toys via monetary donations.
"When I go to buy my toys, I go to responsible vendors that have already pulled their lead toys off the shelf," Kirby said.
Donated toys are screened as they come in.
"We do everything we can to make sure a family doesn't get any tainted toy," Kirby said.
If a recalled toy slips through, the recipient can swap it, he said.
Lynda Thornhill, director of special services for the local Salvation Army, estimated that volunteers have set aside 75 to 100 out of 4,500 toys that have been donated.
"We have been instructed by our headquarters to call the toy distributor and let them know what toys we have and how many we have and we work it out with them to send those back to the toy company," Thornhill said.
The Salvation Army is also advising parents to check the recall list before giving a toy to a child. Recipients are asked to sign a statement relieving the Salvation Army of liability because the toys are donated items, she said.
Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army refer to the list of recalled toys on Mattel's Web site.
Mattel Inc. recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys because they could be tainted with lead paint and had small magnets that children could accidentally swallow. Included in the recall were various Barbie accessory toys with surface paint that contained excessive levels of lead.
Last week, the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, released the results of its testing of 1,200 popular children's toys for toxic chemicals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no more than 40 parts per million (ppm) of lead be allowed in children's products, the Center said. No federal regulations exist for lead in vinyl, plastic toys or children's jewelry, but the federal recall standard for lead paint is 600 ppm.
The Ecology Center's testing found 17 percent of the products had levels above the 600 ppm. Testing detected more than 6,700 ppm in Dollar Store animal figurines and 3,056 ppm in a Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Pack, according to the center's Web site.
Lead gets into a child's body when the child chews or eats something that contains lead or breathes in dust that contains lead. It can cause kidney damage, digestive problems, learning disabilities in children and brain and other nervous system damage, especially in children, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said.