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PIRG: Don't Choke on These Turkey Toys

Annual report lists potentially dangerous playthings

TUESDAY, Nov. 20, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) continued a pre-Thanksgiving rite today by issuing its annual report on the toys it considers to be dangerous turkeys.

The 16th report is a list of playthings that, according PIRG, can choke or deafen kids or that can otherwise do harm because they contain toxic chemicals.

Some toy manufacturers still fail to follow the law by putting warning labels on small toys or toys with small parts that can asphyxiate young kids, PIRG alleges. Many plastic toys, teething rings and rattles contain chemicals that could cause cancer or wreak havoc with the reproductive system. And some toys are so loud that continually playing with them could lead to hearing loss, PIRG says, although toy makers dispute that allegation.

"Choking is still the No. 1 hazard posed by small toys, balloons, and small balls," says Rachel Weintraub, PIRG's staff attorney and the author of the report, titled "Trouble in Toyland."

"Second is chemical exposure from toys, some of which contain up to 40 percent by weight of toxic phthalates or toluene found in children's nail polish, which is used in a lot of paints and is linked with a number of significant health hazards and can cause dizziness, low blood counts and reproductive hazards," she adds. "And this year, we decided to focus on excessively loud toys."

PIRG does the annual report to warn parents about toy hazards as well as help the organization advocate for stronger laws and regulations to protect children, Weintraub says. PIRG researchers, armed with Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety regulations and testing tools, go into the stores, "and if we cannot open the package in the store, we buy it and take it back with us to test it," she says.

This year, PIRG hired an independent tester to measure decibel levels in toys that whirr, bang, clack, whine and otherwise make noise.

"According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toys with decibel levels of more than 85 could be hazardous over a period of time to a child's hearing," Weintraub says.

"According to the most recent data from the CPSC, there were 191,000 emergency room visits for toy-related injuries," Weintraub reports, "and 79 percent of those injuries happened to kids 15 years and younger. There were 17 deaths nationally in the year 2000 from toy-related injuries and six of those were due to choking."

PIRG's 2001 list identifies a sampling of potentially dangerous toys in eight categories. They include recalled toys found on toy store shelves, toys that contain small parts, toys that contain toxic chemicals, or toys with decibel readings of more than 85.

Among the examples:

  • Bead Magic Set Custom, manufactured by Lillian Vernon and purchased at the Lillian Vernon outlet in Prince William, Va. The toy is made up of small parts and has no choke hazard warning label, as required by law;
  • Eight different types of balloons improperly marketed to children under the age of 8;
  • Loose toys in bins devoid of any choke hazard warnings or manufacturer's information;
  • Expressions Nail Polish, manufactured by Almar Sales Co., containing inflammable toluene;
  • and Fisher-Price's Sesame Street Talking CD Player, whose decibel level is 91 when the microphone was positioned by the ear.

"We found a fire truck [Tek Nek Toys International's Electronic Talking Fire Truck] that if you play with it on the floor came out with a decibel level of 103, and the longer the child plays with a loud toy, the more excessive the damage could be," Weintraub says.

Nine of the toys cited as lacking label warning of choking hazard were Halloween toys found in open bins -- squishy eye balls, spider rings, eye ball rings and Halloween whistles.

"That's probably because of the time of year we surveyed," Weintraub explains. (It was October and part of November.) "It could be, and I'm conjecturing here, that these seasonal bin displays are only available for a short time. Because of that, perhaps some store employees are less vigilant about proper labeling of the bins."

Bead Magic Set Custom is a discontinued toy and was being sent to Lillian Vernon's outlet stores, says company spokesman David Hochberg. "When the products are sold in our catalogues and on our Web site, they leave our warehouse in the proper packaging, labeled according to CPSC regulations. When they are put in our outlet store, and out on the shelves the consumer has access to, we have no control over the packaging. What happens is the consumer removes the packaging to look at the product and puts it back on the shelf, and the bag probably gets thrown out," he says.

Fisher-Price says measuring decibel levels at the ear is not the standard used by toy manufacturers around the world.

"We meet the most conservative standards, and that standard is one found in Australia, where the limit is 85 decibels for children over 18 months, measured about 10 inches from the speaker," says Fisher-Price spokeswoman Laurie Oravec. "We don't measure the sound against the ear, because that's not how a child uses the toy.

"When a child plays with this toy, it has lights and sounds and buttons to push," Oravec continues. "The child usually has it in their hands when they're playing with it. And we all know that children at 18 months recognize when something is too loud, and they turn away from it."

On the whole, most toys are safe, and most manufacturers are responsible, PIRG says.

"By far, most manufacturers comply with the law," Weintraub says. "And with regard to toxic phthalates, there has been a voluntary request by the CPSC asking manufacturers to take out phthalates from teethers and rattlers. And while the request was narrower than we want, most manufacturers have complied with these requests."

But consumers and parents shouldn't just assume that all toys are safe, Weintraub says. "Remember, the CPSC does not test every toy."

What to Do: To read the report or to learn how to protect your child when buying toys, see ToySafety.net. or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

SOURCES: Interviews with Rachel Weintraub, staff attorney, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Washington, D.C.; David Hochberg, spokesman, Lillian Vernon Corp., Rye, N.Y.; Laurie Oravec, spokeswoman, Fisher-Price, East Aurora, N.Y.; Nov. 20, 2001, "Trouble in Toyland"
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