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Originally published August 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 8, 2007 at 2:06 AM

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Recalls prompt parents to ask: Is any toy safe?

When local moms and dads learned another million toys contained lead paint, they wondered what kids can play with.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Fisher-Price toy recall

Last week, Mattel's Fisher-Price division announced a recall of nearly 1 million Chinese-made toys because their paint contains lead.

This recall involves 83 types of toys, including Sesame Street and Nickelodeon characters Elmo and Dora the Explorer. (See the complete list with this story at seattletimes.com)

The recall involves only toys sold in the U.S. between May and August this year.

To check whether a toy you own is affected:

1. Go to Mattel's product-recall Web sitehttp://service.mattel.com/us/recall.asp — and click on the first link.

2. Click on "View and print the recall brochure." You'll find pictures of affected toys and a guide to finding the product number and date code on each product.

3. Fisher-Price is exchanging recalled toys for vouchers. You have to mail the toys back to Mattel using a prepaid mailing label available here:http://service.mattel.com/us/recall/39054_IVR.asp

4. You'll also need to include the final two pages of the recall brochure with your return, noting which products you are returning and your contact information.

For more information, contact Fisher-Price at 800-916-4498.

Amy Eng spotted her 2-year-old, Trevon, licking a Thomas train car the other day, and there's been a nagging worry in the back of her mind ever since.

The Renton mother of two boys already has returned another train from the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway line involved in a major toy recall this summer because the Chinese-made product was painted with lead paint. But what about other Thomas trains not on the recall list?

"Now I'm wondering, are any of these trains safe for my kids to play with? I'd rather pay a little more than always wonder," said Eng, who plans to study the packaging more carefully in the future before purchasing toys. "It really should be up to our government to safeguard some of these things."

No matter where you shop or how carefully you scrutinize the labels, it would be nearly impossible to keep toys from China out of your kids' hands.

Even in the Seattle area's independent, locally owned toy stores, stocked with exotic European imports and locally made toys, the shelves are full of games, puzzles and toys made in China, producer of 80 percent of the world's toys.

A massive toy recall announced last week involves nearly 1 million Fisher-Price toys, including Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer characters. All were made in China.

That follows the recall two months ago of 1.5 million RC2 Corp.'s Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway products as well as a series of recalls of other tainted Chinese-made products in recent months, including pet food, tires and toothpaste.

Both toy recalls involve Chinese-made toys painted with lead paint, which can be toxic if ingested and can cause developmental problems in children.

The recalls have frustrated some local toy sellers and parents and left them wondering: If Elmo and Thomas aren't safe, what is?

"Even sacred Elmo, can you believe that?" asked Pamela Powers, co-owner of Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square. "Kids are programmed to fall in love with Elmo and all his little friends."

Magic Mouse and many other independent toy stores don't carry Fisher-Price products, with many spurning mass-marketed toys altogether. But many carry the Thomas railway products and were affected by the earlier recall.

And all of them carry other Chinese-made toys because "you can't avoid that," Powers said. In many cases, parents shop in these stores — and often pay higher prices for toys there — because they object to the branded, mass-marketed toys ubiquitous in big-box stores, independent toy sellers say. Others want higher-quality toys with educational value that will last and even be passed down within the family.

Kaarsten Wisnock of Bothell was taken aback by the Thomas recall this summer because "these are higher-end toys. It never occurred to me not to trust that brand."

The mother of three boys, including a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, had to return two Thomas items involved in the recall. When she learned of the Fisher-Price recall last week, she went online immediately to scan the recall list.

She had several secondhand Cookie Monster and Elmo figurines in a toy box in her car. Though they weren't on the recall list, "I went out to the car, dug them out of the toy box and threw them away," she said. "I feel suspicious of all these things. Why should I trust them? ... I really actually feel like nothing is safe anymore, and I don't know how to fix my life in such a way that I don't need to rely on products from China."

The number of defective products recalled hit a new record last year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than two-thirds of these recalls were of imported products, primarily from China.

It's not that all Chinese-made toys are poor-quality, local toy-store owners say. Some are well-made, like Brio train sets now being manufactured in China, wooden toys by Melissa & Doug, or the handmade Uglydolls.

Ann Walker, owner of Curious Kidstuff in West Seattle, said that when she first opened her store nine years ago, she used to get customers who specifically wanted to avoid buying products from China, but that's not something she hears much now.

"I guess we've kind of all accepted that there is a huge amount of products being made in China," she said. "It comes down to the company" and how watchful it is about how its products are being manufactured.

Just as people are increasingly asking questions about the origins of the food they eat, some toy sellers hope these recalls prompt parents to read packaging information more closely and demand more information about where their toys come from.

At Izilla Toys on Capitol Hill, the origin of toys "absolutely matters" to their customers, said Jude Larene, who co-owns the store with his wife, Jennifer Schneeweis.

"Even before they check the price, they're going to flip the box over and see where it's made," Larene said. He's considering completely eliminating the Thomas the Train line from his store in the wake of that recall.

When he first opened the store four years ago, Larene would ask toy distributors where their toys were made, "and they would always say, 'China, but no one cares, no one checks.' "

"All of a sudden, the larger industry is seeing that maybe they do," he said.

Jolayne Houtz: seattletimes.com">jhoutz@seattletimes.com; 206-464-3122.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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