Holiday Toy Report Lists Perilous Playthings

Experts point to products that shouldn't make this year's gift list

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By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 22, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Yo-yos that can snap back and strangle, dolls impregnated with toxins and pacifiers that choke: All toys for sale this holiday season that should not find their way to Santa's sleigh, according the annual Toy Safety Survey from the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

Released Tuesday, the report finds too many toys marketed with too-small pieces (a choking hazard) or containing toxins that may cause lasting harm.

While the report details dozens of potentially perilous playthings, "there are two types of toys that parents should know more about and become concerned about," said Alison Cassady, PIRG's research director and author of this year's report.

The first is the water yo-yo ball. "There is no single manufacturer," she said. "A lot of them are made in China. It has a long stretchy cord and a ball at the end with water or other liquid. A loop is at the end of the string. You can throw it around like a regular yo-yo but this just goes out about five feet and snaps back quickly. If you swing it like a lasso it wraps around your neck."

The three yo-yo balls listed in the report include the "Water Yo-Yo Ball" (assorted makers), "Flashing Jellyfish/Flashing Noodle Yo-Yo" (assorted makers), and "Bungee-Roos" animal yo-yos by Ganz.

The toys have prompted many calls from concerned parents, she said. "The yo-yo wraps around the child's neck and the parents have had to bite it off or cut it off. Sometimes it snaps back with such force it causes permanent eye injury. A lot of retail stores have voluntarily stopped selling them, but you can still find them in smaller toy stores or on the Internet."

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), told the Associated Press that these yo-yo toys have not been subject to recall, although the agency recommends that parents cut the toy's cord. The CPSC is set to issue its own toy report Nov. 30.

The other key hazard to know about, Cassady said, are chemicals called phthalates (the "ph" is silent), used as softeners in plastic toys. This year, PIRG commissioned an independent laboratory to test eight kids' toys and other articles marketed for children, all labeled as phthalate-free.

"Six of them contained phthalates," said Cassady. "Phthalates are found in teethers, rubber ducks, bath toys and soft plastic books," she said, citing a few of the uses. "We are submitting a petition to the Federal Trade Commission asking them to investigate [companies that erroneously label products as phthalate-free] as deceptive and unfair marketing."

Phthalates have been associated with reproductive defects, lowered sperm counts, early puberty and cancer, said Cassady.

Not everyone agrees with Cassady that the level of phthalates found in toys pose a risk, including the esters panel at the American Chemistry Council, an industry group of companies that produce goods with phthalates. In a statement on their Web site, the Council cites a 1998 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report that found that "few if any children are at risk from the chemical [in toys] because the amount that they ingest does not reach a level that would be harmful."

But toys may contain other known toxins such as xylene or toluene, PIRG notes. Among the potentially toxic playthings cited in this year's report: Hasbro's "Gloworm," AquaDuck Water-Filled Playmat and a wide range of "play" cosmetics, including Claire's Cosmetics Nail Polish, Expressions Makeup 5-Piece Nail Polish Set and the Disney Princess Lip Pot & Mini Nail Collection.

Then there are the noisemakers. Some toys -- such Wal-Mart's "KidConnection Electronic Guitar" and the "Road Rippers" cars (from Toy State International Ltd.) -- can exceed the 85 decibel threshold deemed safe for a child's hearing, according to PIRG.

The watchdog group also picks out two dozen toys as choking hazards because they either include small parts or can be broken down to "generate" small parts.

These include:

  • "Triplets" -- these small dolls from Cititoy Inc. come with tiny pacifiers that hang from the dolls by only a few threads and could easily choke a child if broken away. Labeled as appropriate for children 2 and older, they have no choke hazard warning.
  • "Hot Wheels Rev-Ups Speed Shifters" -- the rubber tires on these tiny Mattel toy trucks can easily pop off and choke a child, PIRG says.
  • "Bob the Builder Portable Die-Cast Vehicle (Dizzy the Mixer)" -- this addition to the Bob the Builder toy franchise includes plastic "cement" that can detach from the mixer and choke a child.
  • "Power Rangers Dino Warriors Marker Activity Book to Color" -- the book includes a marker with a cap that can pose a choking hazard, according to the report.

The report also details problems with balloons, suggesting they should not be marketed to children under age 8 years due to choking hazards.

For parents who are uncertain as to whether a toy or its parts poses a choking risk, PIRG offers up this simple test: If an item can fit inside a standard cardboard toilet-paper roll, it's too small for safe use by a child 3 years of age or under.

Cassady said an "updated shoppers' toy tips will be posted Tuesday" on the PIRG Web site, saving parents from wading through the entire report.

According to CPSC figures, in 2004, 16 American children died from toy-related injuries and more than 210,000 children were treated in hospital emergency departments last year for toy-related injuries.

The response from the toy industry to the newest report? "It's very much the same report they do every year," said Joan Lawrence, vice president of standards and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association. "It's 48 pages of information that will overwhelm and frighten parents, unfortunately," she added.

"PIRG every year names balloons on its list," she noted. "And balloons are not toys, they are party decorations. I agree parents need to be especially careful with un-inflated or broken balloons in children's hands if they are age 8 years and younger. They do again repeat a message they made last year," Lawrence said. "It's getting harder and harder to find unsafe toys."

Parents and other toy buyers should be sure to buy a toy that is age appropriate (looking at the label on toys that says it is for children of specific age ranges), Lawrence advised. "If you buy toys that are age appropriate and give the toy to a child in the appropriate age category and supervise, you can greatly reduce the chances of an accident."

More information

For a look at all the toys listed in the report, head to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

SOURCES: Alison Cassady, research director, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Washington, D.C.; Joan Lawrence, vice president, standards and regulatory affairs, Toy Industry Association; U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 20th Annual Toy Safety Survey; statement, American Chemistry Council

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