Two days before Thanksgiving, and three days before the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that agreements signed with China will help prevent lead-painted toys from reaching U.S. shores. The press release struck an optimistic tone which many consumer groups believe is not warranted — not yet, at least.

And the release suggests as much when it states that the agency is “taking the action needed to remove violative products from the marketplace.” Warnings that potential toy hazards remain and that shoppers should be vigilant in the wake of recalls of millions of toys made in China were also included.

Millions of Americans are making their Christmas gift selections for children as we speak, and concerns about the safety of imported toys has never been greater. Consumer awareness is amplified by the arrival of the gift-giving season, when children’s toys are marketed more aggressively than at any other time of the year.

The Center for Environmental Health based in Oakland, Calif., recently studied 100 toys purchased at national chain stores, and found that 15 contained unhealthy levels of lead. Even low levels of this element in children can cause learning and growing problems, as well as irritability, hyperactivity and loss of appetite, according to health organizations. And if levels build up sufficiently, they can leave adults with a host of health problems, including fatigue, weaknesses, nausea, digestive problems and head or stomach pain.

Despite the recent flurry of recalls and corporate actions designed to keep toys as safe as possible, lead poisoning may still be the unintended gift Santa Claus will be giving this Christmas.

Shoppers have become quite skilled at identifying the best bargains before they head to the cash registers with their purchases. But this year, more than ever, buyers must be aware of the dangers what they buy may hold, and be diligent as they make their decisions.

Only the joys of Christmas should remain in the lives of children after Santa makes his visit and the tree is put away.

Brownwood Bulletin