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What Can Parents Do to Avoid Dangerous Toys?

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For more now on what people can do to avoid the potential dangers on all those recalled toys, we're joined by Dr. Jerome Paulson. He's a pediatrician with the National Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Paulson, thanks for being with us.

Dr. JEROME PAULSON (Pediatrician, National Children's Medical Center): My pleasure.

NORRIS: Now, this latest recall involved toys that have these small and very powerful magnets. And the danger, as I understand, is that children could swallow them, especially if they swallow more than one of those magnets. Is that correct?

Dr. PAULSON: Yes. That is correct. If they swallow one magnet now and that starts to move down the intestinal tract and then a few minutes later or an hour later or whatever, swallow another one from the different places that those magnets are, they can attract one another through the walls of the intestinal tract. But when they link up, they put enough pressure on those walls that it actually causes death of those walls and a hole in the intestinal tract.

NORRIS: And how would a parent know if this had happened?

Dr. PAULSON: A parent might actually not know because these are small so they just go right down the esophagus and into the stomach and the child's not likely to cough or gag, so there may be no symptoms whatsoever from the initial swallowing of the magnet.

NORRIS: Symptoms they might notice later on.

Dr. PAULSON: The symptoms would come later on if the two or more magnets sort of linked up, if you will, inside the intestinal tract. The child would have some stomachache, might or might not have some vomiting, with less likely have some diarrhea, but I guess that's a possibility, too.

NORRIS: And you'd have to go in and remove the magnet surgically, the child wouldn't pass the magnets through.

Dr. PAULSON: Once the two have attached to one another, they won't move. They're stuck to each other. And so the only way to get them out is through surgical procedure, yes.

NORRIS: Now, I'd like to turn to the other potential danger in this latest recall and also other recalls earlier this summer - lead exposure. Is the primary concern here that the child might ingest the paint from his toy or is there a danger, potential danger from other kinds of exposure, the paint breaking down or chipping in some way?

Dr. PAULSON: Well, the risk is from ingestion whether the toy is put in the child's mouth and the child chews on it, or over time, the paint might get on the child's hands and then into the mouth. The paint touching the hands, or any other part of the skin for that matter, is not dangerous.

NORRIS: What are the long-term dangers to lead exposure?

Dr. PAULSON: The long-term dangers from lead exposure relate to loss of IQ, problems with short attention span, problems with behavior. The risk for any one child from any one toy is pretty low. But from a public health standpoint, tens of thousands of kids each individually exposed means that for the society as a whole, there'd been a lot of kids who may sustain a little bit of damage.

NORRIS: How often do you see children there at the medical center because they've either ingested lead that comes from a toy or had some other problem based on something they were playing with, something that would have been bought in a store?

Dr. PAULSON: It's not very common to see acute toxicity and emergency setting from lead in this day and age. But in terms of kids swallowing things that are part of toys, that's certainly a weekly or a monthly occurrence in a busy emergency setting.

NORRIS: Well Dr. Paulson, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Dr. PAULSON: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That was Dr. Jerome Paulson. He's a pediatrician with the National Children's Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You can learn more about the risks of lead poisoning and how to avoid it at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.