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Kids' Health Issues to Watch: Safer Kids' Stuff on the Horizon

Safer Kids' Stuff on the Horizon

Thanks to a groundbreaking new law passed in the summer of 2008, playthings and other kids' products must be deemed safe before they actually make it to the store shelves and, ultimately, children's hands. What's more, lead is being officially phased out of kids' merchandise, once and for all.

Still reeling from millions of unsettling recalls in 2007, many moms and dads spent 2008 wondering what's really safe — and with good reason. But now change is coming, courtesy of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will be able to: enforce and oversee mandatory testing of products before they ever leave the manufacturing room floor, remove unsafe merchandise from shelves faster, and give hefty fines to companies that don't follow the letter of the law. Plus, companies won't be able to make, import, or sell toys or items for kids under age 12 beyond a new lead limit and phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics and rubber) in toys and childcare items (like teethers and pacifiers) will be banned.

But government agencies couldn't come to an agreement in 2008 about another worrisome chemical — bisphenol A (BPA), found in polycarbonate plastics (usually clear, hard items like baby and water bottles) and epoxy resins (used in bottle tops, water pipes, and the linings of food and infant formula cans). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said trace amounts migrating into food containers containing BPA aren't hazardous for babies or grown-ups. But the National Toxicology Program (NTP) looked at animal studies and expressed concern that BPA exposure during development could cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate, mammary gland, and timing of puberty in females.

In other less-than-reassuring news: 2008 brought more questions about China-made products, this time, from items using milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. The FDA did find some melamine in a few select chocolates and coffees sold here. But the bulk of the concern was in China itself, where melamine-contaminated infant formula killed some infants and made tens of thousands of babies and young kids sick with urinary and kidney problems. Luckily, the U.S. supply of formula wasn't affected.

What to Watch:
Although we're making major headway in preventing unsafe kids' items here at home, global oversight of products, in general, still leaves a lot to be desired. The U.S. government will need to garner more worldwide cooperation in demanding much higher standards for the $2 trillion worth of merchandise that comes from beyond our borders. But, much like the recalls of 2007 put the toy industry under the microscope and forced companies to be more careful and step up testing, the world is watching China. The exporting powerhouse country will have to do what it claims it's trying to do — inspecting manufacturers and enforcing major changes in how it makes and regulates products.

Also worth keeping an eye on: A final verdict from the FDA on the chemical BPA. After a federal panel faulted the agency for neglecting to take action, the FDA is taking a closer look at all of the research to decide whether to make an official change. Also, more companies may say "no" to making or selling BPA-containing merchandise and more states may pass or consider laws to ban or limit BPA in toys and kids' products.

For Parents:
News - Behind All the Buzz on the Chemical BPA
Choosing Safe Toys
News - Landmark Bill Signed, Helping Ensure Safety of Toys and Kids' Products
News - Putting Lead in Perspective This Holiday Season
News - Making Sense of the Latest News on the Chemical BPA
News - The Scoop on Baby Products and Possible Toxins

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Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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