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Searching for Safe Toys

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Toys line the shelves of Kaboom! in Leesburg.

This year’s holiday shopping season figures to be more complicated than in the past. With the massive toy recalls that have happened in the past few months, it is necessary to make sure the toys going to loved ones are safe.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2007 has been an unusual year in terms of toy safety. Since 2000, there has been an average of 34 recalls per year. In 2007 there have been 74. The major difference in 2007 has come because of high levels of lead paint, which has been the cause of 36 toy recalls. Twenty-nine of those have come since Aug. 21.

The independent safety organization Underwriters Laboratories has issued a list of tips for holiday shoppers. It urges consumers to make pay attention to the recommended age on a toy. It is also important to make sure a toy has been independently tested for safety.

LOUDOUN COUNTY toy stores are working together to educate the public about the safety of their toys. "With so much press devoted to these toy recalls, we want the public to know that our toys are safe," says Tim Holmes, co-owner of Go Bananas in Brambleton.

This feeling of safety comes directly from the source of the products. Many local toy stores do not get toys from large manufacturers, but specialty toy companies where quality assurance is the first priority.

Mary Porter, owner of Curiosity Zone in Ashburn, has confidence in her products. "We order from high-quality, lower-volume manufacturers, so we haven’t seen any problems," she says.

Many specialty toy manufacturers are more than willing to share information with their clients. Bettie Moore owns Kaboom! in Leesburg and she has been happy with her suppliers’ response. "Our manufacturers have all sent me lists of where each of their products is manufactured. We keep them in a binder up front, and if any customer concerns arise, we have the data right there to show them," she says.

Much of the concern has been about toys that come from China. "People pick up a toy and see ‘Made in China,’ and immediately alarm bells go off," Holmes says. "We order from mostly U.S. and European companies. We do have a few manufacturers in China, but they are specialty manufacturers with very strict quality assurance standards."

The only one of the recalled toys to appear in local specialty toy stores has been a Thomas the Train play set, which was recalled on June 13. Dana Barnes, who runs High Five Inc., a toy manufacturer representative based in Ashburn, says that this is the only recall issue he has dealt with since the recalls began.

"These are stores that stay away from mass merchandise, they’re more selective in what they buy," Barnes says, "because of this, these stores have had almost none of their inventory recalled."