Playing It Safe

As he makes his way down the Boulevard, Joshua Kasteler is not playing around.

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  • Written by
    Jim Calio

It’s early in the morning at the Juvenile Shop on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. A young pregnant woman approaches Joshua Kasteler, who is standing next to a shelf of kids’ toys. She asks him to test a small package containing cloth covers for a child’s seat belt. Joshua takes the package, presses a hand-held X-ray machine to it, and in a few seconds he gets a readout.  

“It’s OK,” he tells the expectant mom. “It’s got some toxins, but they’re not above the allowable level.”

“I found a button on an item of kids clothing that had nine times the allowable level of lead.”

Josh, 40, is the entrepreneur behind Safe Ducky, a company aimed at assessing the chemical components in children’s products. Using a couple of high-tech tools, he screens toys and other items—everything from blankets to kiddie silverware—for toxins that exceed government-mandated safety levels.

The idea morphed out of his years in Asia working as a chemical engineer. He saw how easily toxins could pass through the manufacturing process and get into products, especially kids’ toys. Some of those toys end up in retail shops in the U.S., where unwitting parents buy them.

The Sherman Oaks resident says he has removed hundreds of items from store shelves in and around Los Angeles. Among them:

“I found a button on an item of kids clothing that had nine times the allowable level of lead,” he says. “It’s something that a baby could put in its mouth or that could touch its skin.”

Here in the Valley, Joshua has worked with Linda’s Toys in Encino and the Juvenile Shop in Sherman Oaks. When a toxic product has been identified, it is removed from the store. Then he goes back to the manufacturer to see if it can solve the problem. Once all the toys in the store have been deemed safe, that store’s name gets posted on the Safe Ducky website as a guide for parents.

“I’ve been here for 35 years,” says Juvenile Shop owner Lauren Logan. “When Joshua came to me with his plan to test, I thought it was a good idea. I want to know. In the business we are in, we want what is safe for babies.”

Joshua recently expanded the business to include house calls.

“I have to wonder about the toxins I was exposed to growing up in LA in the ‘70s and the impact it had on my health,” he says. “If we can help reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals for the current generation of kids, that will be a great thing.”

To learn more about Safe Ducky, go to