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'Trouble in Toyland' Report Reinforces Importance of Buying Safe Toys for Kids

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'Trouble in Toyland' Report Reinforces Importance of Buying Safe Toys for Kids

WISPIRG director Bruce Speight presents the Trouble in Toyland report to the mediaMadison, Wisconsin - They made their list and checked it twice. And unfortunately once again they found some naughty toys among the nice.

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group's 28th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report highlights several potentially unsafe toys that can be found on local toy shelves this holiday shopping season.

"As we say every year: One toy-related death or injury is too much," WISPIRG director Bruce Speight said at a news conference held at American Family Children's Hospital.

"We need to be proactive to prevent injuries and toy-related deaths from occurring. And the way to do that is for parents and consumers to be informed and be smart shoppers. But better yet, we should prevent unsafe toys from ever ending up on the market."

To that end, Speight credited the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has made more and more progress in that area since being revamped under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

The law increased the the independent federal agency's staff and budget, placed stricter guidelines on the levels of lead and chemicals called phthalates that are allowed in toys and required manufacturers to test toys before they go on the market.

"This year we had fewer (toy) recalls than any other year in the past six years, and we've seen fewer each year since that was passed," Speight said. "Progress has been made.

"But there are still products out there that fail to meet these important safeguards and some standards need to be made even stronger to fully protect our children."

Speight displayed toys featured in this year's "Trouble in Toyland" report that fall into one of four categories: toys with dangerous chemicals, choking hazards, magnetic toys and excessively noisy toys.

Toys with Dangerous Chemicals

Lead was banned from being included in household paint in 1978 and was phased out of gasoline in the 1970s and '80s, but small amounts are allowed in toys as long as it doesn't exceed 100 parts per million. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an even lower level of 40 ppm.

"There is no safe level of lead exposure," Speight said. "Unfortunately, some toys with lead are slipping through the cracks."

One such toy found this year is the Captain America Soft Shield made by Disguise, which is labeled for ages 2 and older. Laboratory testing showed the vinyl toy contains 2,900 ppm of lead - 29 times the federal limit.

"We also found toy rings with lead in the paint and surface coating up to 200 parts per million," Speight said, noting that the federal limit in that area is 90 ppm.

Also mentioned in the report is the Lamaze Take and Tidy Activity Mat by TOMY. Researchers found it to contain 900 ppm of Antimony, a heavy metal that is listed as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The federal standard for Antimony is just 60 ppm.

Phthalates have been a regular part of the "Trouble in Toyland" reports in recent years - they are used to make plastics softer, but have been linked to adverse reproductive and developmental health effects.

The federal standard for phthalates in children's toys is 1,000 ppm, but a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil case made by Innovative Design found in stores showed 150,000 ppm of phthalates.

However, Speight pointed out that it could be argued that no law was broken in this case, as a pencil case isn't considered a toy and therefore wouldn't be bound by the standard.

"But any children's product can end up as a chew toy for a younger child," he said, "so we're calling on the CPSC to include products like this in their phthalate limits."

Choking Hazards

The current choke-test cylinder used by the CPSC next to an empty toliet-paper roll, which is recommended by USPIRGIn 2012, the CPSC reported 11 toy-related deaths, the fewest since 2003 and a sharp improvement - there were at least double that number in each year from 2004 through '08. Three of those 11 deaths were due to choking or asphyxiation.

"We all know that toddlers put everything in their mouths," said Speight, noting that choking hazards are the leading cause of toy recalls by the CPSC.

"Between 2001 and 2011, over 80 children choked to death on balloons, balls, toys or parts of toys. In the past year, the commission has recalled more than 172,000 toys from store shelves because of choking hazards."

WISPIRG and its parent organization, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, continue their quest to get the CPSC to change the size of its small parts choke-test cylinder. Instead, they recommend using a common household item to determine whether a small toy is safe for young children: An empty toilet-paper roll.

"We tell parents and caregivers that it's more reliable to test if a toy poses a choking hazard by using a bigger test cylinder," Speight said. "If a toy fits in (the roll), it's too small for a child under 3 years old."

Magnets

Speight said that between 2007 and '09, there were 1,700 emergency room cases nationwide involving the ingestion of high-powered magnets - and more than 70 percent of the cases involved children between the ages of 4 and 12.

Take, for instance, the Sonic Sound Sizzlers Noise Magnets by JA-RU, a set of two oval-shaped magnets.

"(They) nearly fit in the small parts choke-test cylinder - it just barely comes out of this test cylinder," Speight said while demonstrating. "If it did fit in the cylinder, it would be banned for children under 14, but because it doesn't, it's labeled for 8 and up."

The magnets are so strong that they attract to each other even when separated by the plastic walls of the test cylinder tube, and they can do the same in a child's stomach wall and intestine.

Excessively Loud Toys

Some of the toys that are highlighted in this year's Trouble in Toyland report

"Research has shown that one in five U.S. children will have some degree of hearing loss by the age of 12," Speight said. "This may be in part to many children using toys and other children's products such as music players that emit loud sounds."

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has two standards for volume in children's toys: 85 decibels, or 65 decibels for "close-to-ear" products, such as toy phones.

Three toys found by WISPIRG exceed both of those levels: The Chat & Count Smart Phone and Lil' Phone Pal by LeapFrog and the Laugh & Learn remote control made by Fisher Price.

"The message today is clear: We need to protect our littlest consumers from unsafe toys, and parents and caregivers should watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys," Speight said.

In addition to reading through the "Trouble in Toyland" report, Speight offers shoppers this advice:

  • Buy age-appropriate toys for children.
  • Look for quality design and construction - toys that break easily into smaller parts can become a choking hazard.
  • Avoid toys with small batteries or magnets.
  • Make sure safety gear is included when needed, such as helmets and knee pads for bicycles and skateboards.
  • Report any injuries or unsafe toys to the CPSC at www.saferproducts.gov.

Date Published: 12/12/2013