Almost weekly announcements in the past several months of lead-
contaminated products imported by China, many of the them toys, have prompted parents, childcare workers and educators to rethink whether the toys they purchase and the ones they already have are safe.
Then on Thursday, Aqua Dots, which are beads that can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water, were pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts in a dangerous drug when eaten.
"It's a little scary when you think of keeping your kids safe, and you want to buy them nice things but are afraid to," said Judy Armstrong, a parent educator for Sikeston R-6 school district. "You've got to be careful and keep on top of it."
Lead is toxic if ingested by young children. Children's products found to have more than 0.6 percent lead accessible to users are subject to a recall.
"I think what's happened, too, is now that they've found this is happening, that's why they're starting to do more quality control," said Susan Thomas, coordinator of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
Regardless of the all the recalls, Thomas said she believes there are some toys from China that are fine.
"If people have the toys that have been on any of the recall lists, take them back or throw them away. If it's something they can put away until the child gets older or at which time they'd be less apt to put it in their mouths, then they should do that," Thomas said.
It's also recommended if a parent finds their child has been playing with one of the recalled toys, their child should get a lead test, which is a blood test, Thomas said.
"It's pretty simple and you can find out the results within a week, and parent can find out if any damage has been done," Thomas said.
Armstrong said parents she conducts home visits with are asking about which toys to buy for their children, but most are already aware of the lead problem due to the attention in the media.
So what are Armstrong's toy suggestions?
"Get toys big enough so they can't put them in their mouths. Always go with block toys and puzzles, balls and bats, anything that will keep them active," Armstrong said.
Or make your own toys, Armstrong said. Paint with gelatin, she suggested. Just mix water and a gelatin packet, and use cotton swabs to paint. Or make your own clay, she said.
"Let them play with the pots and pans or get a really big box for them to play with," Armstrong suggested.
Another suggestion is to shop local.
Roger and Nancy Craft, who own Craftmasters' KidSmart in Sikeston, said they haven't had any recalls on their specialty toys, games and puzzles.
"We have been getting letters and calls from manufacturers saying they want to reassure us with all of this lead scare and everything going on," Nancy Craft said. "They said they have really been quality-minded and have been checking the toys all along so we feel the items we have to offer are going to be fine. Nothing is perfect in life, but that gives us hope that what we do put in our store is going to be safe."
The specialty store, which has been in business for 20 years, doesn't sell mass market items, which are more likely to come out of China, Craft said.
"We've always been concerned about toy safety, and our speciality companies constantly make safety a top priority," Craft said.
Popular -- and safe -- items include moldable sculpting beads, which are nontoxic and gluten-, protein- and allergen-free, and also a product called Magic Nuudles, Craft said.
"Magic Nuudles are biodegradable building blocks made from cornstarch -- which everyone knows cornstarch hasn't hurt us yet," Craft said.
As Christmas approaches, Thomas, who has two children, said she doesn't think she'll change her shopping habits too much. And the good news is because all of this attention, there will be safer toys in the long run, she said. "I'm sure the stores will do the best they can to make sure what they have on their store shelves is safe," Thomas said. "Of course no one can guarantee all of it will be safe at any point or time."
Consumer Product Safety Commission provides photos and descriptions of recalled toys can be found at http://www.cpsc.gov or call 1-800-638-2772.