CINCINNATI — One would presume that the director of a child care center at a leading children’s hospital would be able to keep up with the latest toy recalls.
“We try to stay on top of it as best we can,” says Dawn Denno, director of the Children’s for Children Child Care Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “It’s overwhelming. It’s just absolutely overwhelming.”
No matter how vigilant, no matter which products she buys, Denno still has to root out recall surprises. Her recent find? One of those fat wooden paint brushes that resembles a shaving brush. It was manufactured with lead paint. Denno keeps it in a sort of collection of horrors in order to demonstrate that even with precautions and an aware staff, you can miss something.
Local role in consumer recalls
The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is in the unique position of taking care of children and having to deal with the trauma of dangerous toys outside of the hospital. Because of this, Denno has taken a local leadership role to reduce future patients at the hospital. Around Christmas, Denno makes rounds in the community, telling listeners sad stories, including one about a surgery to remove magnets. “Toys with magnets are really fun for children,” says Denno, “but magnets can cause the intestines to adhere.”
While Denno gets federal recall bulletins and checks those bulletins against the toys in the center, she says her first line of defense against anything dangerous is basic safety and first aid training. It’s not enough to just check what’s been recalled, as not all unsafe products are recalled. Plus, cute and clever new “toys” come along every day. “They are now making candy that looks just like Legos,” says Denno. While the clever candy isn’t unsafe for older children, they teach toddlers that it’s O.K. to put a Lego in the mouth.
Just purely relying on the federal government’s standards won’t make you safe. Denno says U.S. toy standards are greater than many Asian countries, but less than Canada and the European Union.
Don’t assume anything
“Most Americans think the government is protecting them,” agrees Dara O’Rourke, a professor in the Department. of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley, and formerly a professor at MIT. O’Rourke studies the environmental, social, and health impacts of global supply chains, and was surprised at food and toy standards while buying for his own family, “That set us on this journey to build a database,” said O’Rourke.
The result? The consumer website GoodGuide.com, which ranks the safety of consumer products with a database and facts about cancer risks, reproductive health hazards, endocrine disruption and skin and eye irritation. It continues to amaze O’Rourke how “poor our regulatory systems are on food safety, product safety and toy safety.”
His site goes beyond federal recalls, and includes information about toy and food ingredients that are legal, but of questionable reputation. For consumers or buyers interested in the amount of food coloring in a food, or the lead, mercury and cadmium found in toys, GoodGuide can provide the information by iPhone, so consumers can find out about a brand while they are shopping.
Not all the questions GoodGuide answers are about actual safety, but instead are qualitative, and involve working conditions and company policies on diversity and the environment. Consumers can log in and join the conversation, which does not always involve right or wrong, just choices.
“Some juices,” he says, “have more sugar than a can of Coke.”