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Steve Blackledge,
U.S. PIRG

Parents Beware - Many Toys Still Toxic, Hazardous

For Immediate Release

SEATTLE –Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG) announced today in its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

WashPIRG released its report, which reveals the results of laboratory testing for toxic chemicals and identifies toys that pose choking hazards while announcing a new campaign calling on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to better protect children from choking dangers.  

“Choking on small parts is a leading cause of toy-related injury, causing fifteen deaths in the last three years,” said Steve Breaux, a Public Interest with WashPIRG. “We are concerned that the 30-year-old small parts standard is not protective enough. Children can and have choked on parts that are larger than the standard,” he explained.

According to WashPIRG, small parts from one toy, the “Lokmock /Baby’s First Train” manufactured by Haba and sold online by Amazon, can present a choking hazard. A Washington DC parent had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her one-year old to keep him from choking on one of the toys smaller parts, even though the train doesn’t fail the small parts test and is in compliance with current safety regulations.

“For years we have told parents that it’s more reliable to test if a toy poses a choking hazard by using a bigger test cylinder that everyone has at home — an empty toilet paper roll,” Breaux said. “If a toy, or any part of a toy, can fit in the cardboard tube in the middle of a roll of toilet paper, then it is too small for a child under 3.”

Breaux says that other toys available in many toy stores and chain retailers in the Seattle area pose other hazards, including toxic chemicals:

Plastic toy handcuffs available in the dollar section of a local Toys-R-Us contain antimony, a known cancer-causing agent, on the surface coating at 1,200 parts per million (ppm) – 20 times the legal limit of 60 ppm.

The “Bright Stars Travel Book,” an infant’s toy available at Toys-R-Us, contains antimony, at twice the legal limit.

A “Dora the Explorer” backpack manufactured by Global Design Concepts and available at a Clare’s store in downtown Seattle contains a chemical used to make plastic softer but which has been connected to adverse reproductive and developmental health effects.

The crown in the “Princess Expressions Tiara and Jewelry” set manufactured by Almar Sales and available in local K-Mart stores contains 87 ppm lead. Lead has been banned in paint since 1977, and in gasoline for nearly as long, because it is a powerful neurotoxin that causes chronic problems including lower IQ and behavioral problems.

WashPIRG noted that progress has been made on toy safety in the past two years thanks to a 2008 PIRG-backed law overhauling the CPSC, as well as new leadership at the agency. 

“The CPSC is doing a good job under its expanded authority, but that authority does not extend far enough when it comes to toxic chemicals,” said Breaux. “We urge Congress and the Obama Administration to reform chemicals policy to address the tens of thousands of chemicals that are in the products that children come in contact with every day.”

For 24 years, the WashPIRG’s Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provided examples of toys on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. The group also provides an interactive website with tips for safe toy shopping that consumers can access on their smart-phones at www.toysafety.mobi.    

Key findings from the report include:

In 2009, many toys and other children’s products containing more than 0.1% of phthalates were banned. Still, WashPIRG found children’s products that contained concentrations of phthalates up 30%.

Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under three, there are still toys available that pose serious choking hazards. In the past three years, 15 children have died after choking or asphyxiating on a toy or toy part; two died in 2009 alone.

Lead and other metals have been severely restricted in toys in the past two years, but WashPIRG researchers found toys containing toxic lead and antimony on store shelves. Lead has negative health effects on almost every organ and system in the human body, and antimony is classified as a human carcinogen.  Laboratory testing revealed one preschool book with antimony far above the limits and WashPIRG has notified the CPSC.

According to the most recent data from the CPSC, toy-related injuries sent more than 250,000 children – about 90,000 under the age of five – to emergency rooms in 2009. Twelve children died from toy-related injuries that year.

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