Residents turn out for lead tests on toys

Brenda Rothert

Victor Vasquez brought his son’s Thomas the Tank Engine toy to his Galesburg union hall Thursday to find out if it contains dangerous levels of lead paint.

United Steelworkers health and safety trainer Mary Sparks rubbed a testing liquid on the toy and swabbed it for 30 seconds to see if the swab turned pink or red, indicating lead.

"Thomas is OK," she told Vasquez.

But Vasquez said he’s still concerned.

"There’s no way you can test them all," he said.

U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, D-Rock Island, doesn’t think parents should have to. He said the responsibility for ensuring the United States is importing safe toys belongs with the government.

"We cannot continue to import products that are going to harm our kids," he said. "This is something you cannot put on the back burner. These products are still coming in."

During a news conference at the United Steelworkers of America Local 685 union hall, Hare said he’s dissatisfied with the inaction of toy companies and the Bush administration following recent recalls because of lead paint contamination.

Hare is a co-sponsor of the Food and Product Responsibility Act, which requires companies to get insurance to cover the cost of recalls and damages from unsafe products.

Members of the union and their family members came to the hall to support Hare’s message.

Amanda Brunswig of Galesburg brought some of the toys her four children play with to be tested. She found out other products, like baby bottles and bibs, also could be contaminated.

"It’s a concern," she said. "I didn’t even realize all the stuff out there at could be lead based."

Sparks tested several toys at the hall and handed out free kits so parents can test toys themselves at home. She said she has been to around 15 union halls testing toys and has found toys containing lead at more than 10 of the halls.

A basket sitting near Sparks had a doll inside with orange hair painted on it. She said she recently tested the doll at another site for a mother and found lead in it.

"Her daughter had been chewing on that doll for two years," Sparks said. When parents see their swabs turn pink as she rubs, Sparks said "it scares them to death."

Parents who find lead in their children’s toys can bring them to the Steelworkers hall for disposal, Sparks said. She also recommends those parents take their children to the doctor to be tested for high lead levels so they can be treated.

"It’s as simple as a blood test … It’s worth a trip to the doctor," she said.