Annual "Trouble in Toyland" report warns of lead, pthalates, choking hazards

Consumer Reports News: November 23, 2010 02:22 PM

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released its annual toy safety survey today. This year’s report focuses on toxic chemicals in toys and choking hazards. 

U.S.PIRG researchers went to national chain discount stores and other retailers in September and October 2010 to identify potentially dangerous toys. They analyzed CPSC recall notices and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety. Examples of unsafe toys were easily found on store shelves. They purchased 98 toys and pieces of children’s jewelry from major retailers and dollar stores. Screening tests for the presence of lead and other metals and phthalates were performed. Their findings include: 

Lead and other toxic chemicals. There is no “safe” level of lead exposure for children, and yet it continues to show up in many children’s products: toys, stuffed animals, jewelry, trinkets. Lead-tainted children’s products shouldn’t be on store shelves but they are so be aware. Read our steps to lower 

Phthalates. The potential health effects of exposure to phthalates (a group of compounds used as plasticizers and as ingredients in some pliable plastics, some perfumes and personal care products) have been documented for everything from reproductive defects and premature delivery to early onset puberty and lower sperm counts. U.S.PIRG researchers found two children’s products that contain phthalates: a baby doll and a Dora the Explorer backpack. 

Choking hazards. Some good news here: overall, manufacturers and toy retailers are doing a good job of marketing and labeling small balls, balloons, small toys and toys with small parts, with the required choke hazard warning. But choking continues to be the leading cause of death related to toys and some toys may not meet CPSC requirements. Small parts are banned in toys for children under three and labeling is required for toys with small parts made for children between the ages of three and six. PIRG researchers, however, still found toys for children under three with small parts and toys with small parts for children under six without the required choking hazard warning.

A specific danger to watch out for: toys shaped like corks or with spherical, hemispherical, or circular flared ends and attached to a shaft, like the toy nails that caused two suffocation deaths, could pose particular hazards. Also, keep all balloons away from children. Read our six tips to avoid a choking accident.

According to CPSC's just-released annual report (pdf download), there were 44 toy recalls in fiscal year 2010—down from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008. Toy-related deaths also decreased in 2009 to 12 deaths (from 24 in 2007 and 2008). Riding toys were associated with almost 60 percent of the reported deaths in 2009: 3 with tricycles, 2 with powered riding toys, and 2 with nonmotorized riding toys or unspecified riding toys. While recalls and deaths have declined, toy-related injuries are increasing. In 2009, there were an estimated 186,000 emergency room-treated injuries related to toys with children younger than 15, which is up from 152,000 injuries in 2005. 

Unfortunately for consumers, there is no comprehensive list of potentially hazardous toys. But there are things you can do, including the following:

—Desiree Ferenczi

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