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Report Warns of Toys With Health Risks

Consumer Group Says Dangerous Toys Can Still Be Found on Store Shelves

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 24, 2010 -- Though progress has been made in recent years in making playthings for children safer, far too many toys remain on store shelves that pose serious risks to America's kids, a consumer watchdog group says in a new report.

Some toys contain toxic chemicals and many are choking hazards, according to the report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

“We've made a lot of progress, but dangerous toys can still be found among our children's playthings,” says Liz Hitchcock, U.S. PIRG public health advocate and lead author of the organization's 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report. “U.S. PIRG's report and the resources we offer will help consumers identify and avoid the worst threats and keep their children safe this year.”

Toxic Substances in Toys

The report says many toys contain lead or other toxic substances, pointing to six toys as examples as potentially harmful due to chemicals they contain: a stuffed animal, a baby book, a tiara and jewelry set, a baby doll, plastic toy handcuffs, and a toy gun. The toys were sold at major retail and dollar stores. Among major findings in this year's report:

  • Despite a ban on small parts in toys for kids under age 3, some toys still pose serious choking hazards, including a toy train with a wooden peg that U.S. PIRG says nearly caused the choking death of a child in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • Some toys contained phthalates, considered to be potentially harmful chemicals, including a baby doll that contained concentrations of phthalates up to 300,000 parts per million. Laboratory tests revealed toys containing potentially toxic lead and antimony, even though lead and other metals have been severely restricted in toys.

The U.S. PIRG report says lead has negative health effects on almost every organ and system in the human body, and that antimony is classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the European Union. One baby book with antimony was found to contain far more antimony than allowable limits.

Role of Federal Agencies

Hitchcock says the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is doing a good job “but there is still more work to be done, especially when it comes to reducing choking hazards and regulating the tens of thousands of chemicals that may be in the toys our children play with.”

Toy-related injuries sent more than 250,000 children to emergency rooms in 2009, according to the CPSC. Twelve children died in 2009 from toy-related injuries.

Congress passed The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 in August 2008. This law gives the CPSC an increase in authority and provides new testing standards for toys. Still, U.S. PIRG says in an executive summary to its 2010 report, “there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are still not regulated for the many uses in our children's lives.”

U.S. PIRG Recommendations

The U.S. PIRG issued a number of recommendations this year:

  • Congress should protect the budget of the CPSC and continue vigorous oversight of implementation and enforcement of the new law.
  • Manufacturers should be required to provide all hazard and health information to state and federal agencies so that they can better assess the safety or danger of chemicals.
  • The federal government should make sure dangerous chemicals are phased out of toys and other items intended for children.
  • Products should be labeled with names of chemicals to give parents a chance to choose toys that are less toxic.

The report identifies the following toys as potential dangers:

  • A stuffed animal monkey made by Play Pets that contained lead slightly above recommended levels.
  • The surface coating of toy plastic handcuffs sold at Toys “R” Us, which had excess antimony, many times higher than allowable.
  • The red handle of a baby book sold at Toys “R” Us containing antimony that was above the allowable limit.
  • The coating on the surface of a wild range toy gun sold at Family Dollar, which had more antimony than allowed.

U.S. PIRG says that because there is no comprehensive list of potentially hazardous toys, parents should carefully examine items before buying them.

The report also lists the following as posing dangers for kids:

  • Small parts on toys that can detach and pose choking risks.
  • Small balls, which are easy to swallow. Balls with a diameter of less than 1.75 inches are banned for kids under age 3.
  • Balloons, which cause more choking deaths than any other kids' product.
  • Marbles. Toys with marbles must containing warning labels.
  • Drawstrings on clothing can lead to deaths or injuries because they sometimes catch on cribs, doors, or playground equipment.

Products That Can Pose Hazards

The U.S. PIRG report lists the following products as containing potentially toxic amounts of lead or other hazardous chemicals:

  • Princess Expressions Tiara and Jewelry set, made by Almar Sales and sold by Kmart.
  • Monkey in Banana, made by Play Pets and sold at Uncle Fun stores.
  • Baby Doll, also sold by Uncle Fun. U.S. PIRG says the manufacturer of the doll was unknown.
  • Dora the Explorer backpack, made by Global design Concepts and sold by Claire's retailers.
  • Bright stars travel book, sold at Toys “R” Us.
  • Plastic handcuffs, sold at Toys “R” Us.
  • Wild ranger toy gun, made by Polyfect Inc. and sold at Family Dollar stores.

The report lists two examples of toys that pose potential choking hazards:

  • Lokmock/Baby's first train, made by Haba, sold by Sullivan's Toys Let's Get Building!
  • Construction Playset (Handy Manny Big Construction Job), made by Fisher-Price and sold at Target.

SOURCES:

News release, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Hitchcock, E. “Trouble in Toyland, November 2010, 25th Annual Survey of Toy Safety.”

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.



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