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CPSC Incompetence Nearly Fatal for Girl Choked by Yo-Yo Water Ball

Jun 5, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Recently, a story emerged about a five-year-old New Jersey girl, Sydney Blacker, who won a Yo-Yo Water ball at her school fair.  Within an hour, Sydney was choking and turning red as her mother, Ellen, ripped the toy off of Sydney’s neck.  Because the toy was won at a school event, Ellen was not concerned that the toy could harm Sydney; however, after some Internet research, Ellen discovered that the defective toy had been banned for sale in New Jersey.

Apparently, a PTA parent purchased the toys online from a company in Indiana.  The toys are legally for sale in that state.  The online search also confirmed that the Yo-Yo Water Ball received a warning from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Although the CPSC issued a warning in 2003, its sale was not banned.  Ellen is working to have the toy banned and next week, a CPSC official will meet with her to document Sydney’s experience in the hopes of having the toy permanently banned.

Last year the CPSC recalled 75 brands of toys.  The widespread recalls have led to confused consumers who don't know how to tell whether a toy is safe or not.  No product carries a 100% safety guarantee, but concerned shoppers can look for safety-standards labels similar to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  Products deemed safe carry labels known as EN71, ASTM F963, or ASTM F967 and refer to toy safety standards in Europe and the U.S.  Standards cover choking hazards, product flammability, and acceptable lead paint levels, among other things.  Labels are periodically updated when a new hazard is revealed.

Firms take steps to remove recalled products from market, but it is impossible to police toys sold at thrift stores, garage sales, and Internet auction sites.  Recalls extend to nontoy products and, sometimes, action is not swift.  The death of an 8-month old prompted the recall of 36,000 racks sold by Jetmax. It took three weeks for the CPSC to pick up a faulty Bassettbaby’s crib for review—nearly 9000 were recalled due to construction flaws posing entrapment and strangulation hazards.  Nearly one million Graco and Simplicity cribs were recalled due to a design flaw resulting in three children’s deaths; the CPSC was criticized for its handling of the investigation and has been harshly criticized for having been influenced by the companies it regulates in the past.

Many shoppers associate safety concerns with toys made in China, partly because the country—which manufactures about 85% of all toys sold in the U. S.—came under scrutiny after Mattel Inc. recalled over 21 million toys.  Mattel later acknowledged it could have done a better job of overseeing subcontractors in China, but safety experts and retailers say that a toy that's made overseas isn't necessarily unsafe.

Michael Green, executive director for the Center for Environmental health, said the CPSC should do more to ensure dangerous toys aren't approved for sale.  "The problem is that these things need to be considered safe before they get on the store shelves," he said. "There's no requirement for these companies to have third-party testers."


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