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Dangerous Toys Still on Store Shelves

Parents Can't Trust Government to Protect Their Children

Nov 22, 2006 | Consumer Affairs

Despite decades-old laws requiring safer toys and other children's items, many hazardous toys are still being sold in stores across the country, according to the 21st annual toy safety survey released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

"While we can report substantial progress after more than two decades of advocacy on behalf of America's littlest consumers, U.S. PIRG's researchers still found trouble in toyland," said U.S. PIRG Research Director Alison Cassady, the author of the report.

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), almost 73,000 children under the age of five were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2005. Twenty children died from toy-related injuries last year.

"Even one toy-related death is too many, because these deaths are preventable," said Cassady.

The 21st annual U.S. PIRG Trouble in Toyland report offers safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards.

U.S. PIRG's research focused on several categories of toy dangers:

  • toys that pose choking hazards,
  • toys with powerful magnets,
  • toys that contain lead, and
  • toys that pose strangulation hazards.

Choking Hazards

In 1979, the CPSC banned the sale of toys for children under three if they contain small parts. The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act required an explicit choke hazard warning on toys with small parts for children between three and six.

Despite those regulations, U.S. PIRG found toys for children under three with small parts and toys with small parts for children under six without the required choke hazard warning.

Children continue to choke on toys that meet the letter of the law. In September, Playskool recalled the Team Talkin' Tool Bench after two children suffocated when the toy's oversized plastic nails became lodged in their throats. U.S. PIRG found several toys on store shelves that have parts shaped like corks or these toy nails that could pose similar suffocation hazards.

"Toddlers put everything in their mouths," said Cassady. "CPSC should make the small parts test more protective of children under three and consider warning labels for toys with parts shaped like corks or the toy nails that caused two children to suffocate," continued Cassady.
Magnetic Toys

Toymakers have started using powerful magnets in building toys and magnetic jewelry. If a child swallows more than one magnet, they can attract each other in the body and cause a bowel obstruction or life-threatening perforation. A little boy died last Thanksgiving and many others have had life-saving surgery after swallowing magnets from MEGA Brands' Magnetix toys.

"Swallowing a magnet is not like swallowing a penny. Powerful magnets can wreak havoc inside the body," cautioned Cassady.

MEGA Brands has modified the design of Magnetix and placed a label on the toy's packaging warning parents about the dangers of magnets. U.S. PIRG called on CPSC to require a warning label on all magnetic toys that tells parents to seek immediate medical attention if a child swallows magnets.
Lead in Jewelry

Children exposed to lead can suffer delayed mental and physical development or even death.

In February, a four-year-old died of lead poisoning after he swallowed a bracelet charm that contained 99% lead. U.S. PIRG researchers went to just a few stores and easily found four items of children's jewelry that contain high levels of lead, ranging from 1.8% lead to 34% lead by weight.

"We've known for decades that lead poses serious health risks to children, so it is unacceptable that consumers can still find lead-laden children's jewelry on store shelves," said Cassady.

U.S. PIRG called on CPSC to enact and enforce mandatory requirements for jewelry manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers to ensure their products do not contain lead.
Strangulation Hazards

CPSC has decided to take another look at the dangers posed by water yo-yo balls after a five-year-old Bellevue, Washington boy almost suffocated last month when the toy's stretchy cord wrapped tightly around his neck several times. CPSC has recorded about 400 injuries to the eyes, face and neck since the water yo-yo ball came on the market three years ago.

"CPSC should not wait until a child dies to protect children from the dangers posed by playing with this toy," said Cassady.

U.S. PIRG called on CPSC to follow the state of Illinois's lead and ban the water yo-yo immediately.

Cassady also reminded parents that the toy list in the U.S. PIRG report is only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves.

"Shoppers should examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before they make a purchase this holiday season," Cassady concluded.
Latest Recalls

Parents and others buying gifts for children should check the latest safety recalls. If you're shopping on eBay or at a thrift store or bazaar that resells used items, check safety recalls from earlier years as well. Although it clearly has the capability to do so, eBay does nothing to screen items aimed at children.

The ConsumersAffairs.Com recall section lists child-related recalls dating back to 1999.

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