CHICAGO – Donated Christmas toys may wind up in the trash if any are found to be tainted with lead.
At Marine Corps headquarters in Chicago, volunteers and Marines at the "Toys for Tots" Christmas drive are combing through thousands of gifts to ensure kids don't get any of the 20 million toys recalled this past year for containing toxic levels of lead.
Complicating matters is a growing demand by needy kids for the toys and a decrease in donated gifts by people reluctant to give for fear of accidentally donating a toxic toy.
“It brings up a big problem,” said Marine Sgt. Carlos Rivas, who’s in charge of the Toys for Tots drive. “The challenge we have this year (is that with) all the toys we get in, we have to sort them out and make sure they aren’t tainted with lead.”
Rivas said volunteers must sift through a 13-page list of banned items from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and pull out any with potentially dangerous levels of lead from the pile. In addition, workers are inspecting the boxes to see if they were manufactured in China, and then scanning the toys for discoloration — a tell-tale sign of lead contamination.
The work is compounded by short-staffing because so many Marines are in Iraq or in training to be deployed. The Marines say they're dedicated to making sure all the toys get to the kids by Christmas, and have asked for help from volunteers.
The charities that distribute the toys to children they serve must sign a disclaimer that the Marine Corps and its Toys for Tots Foundation aren’t responsible for any contamination that still might occur, according to Rivas.
“You don't want any lawsuits,” he said. “You want to be one of Santa's elves.”
FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt contributed to this report.