Unsafe toys still on shelves this shopping season


With the holiday season here, officials are urging parents to be smart, savvy consumers when purchasing toys for their children. A report released last Tuesday identified 25 toys on store shelves that can cause potential hazards to children.

“Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons is still a leading cause of toy-related injury. Between 1990 and 2009 over 200 children have died,” said Ryan Pierannunzi, an advocate for the RI Public Interest Research Group (RIPIRG) on Tuesday. “While most toys are safe, our researchers still found toys on the shelves that pose choking hazards and other toys that contain hazardous levels of toxic chemicals including lead.”

In the report by RIPIRG, 25 potentially hazardous toys were identified. Lead, phthalates, choking hazards and excessive loudness were cited as points of danger among the listed toys.

“Parents assume that because a toy is on a store shelf, it’s safe,” said Pierannunzi, “But that’s not always the case.”

Dr. Dina Morrissey from the Injury Prevention Center said that accidental injury is the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 44. But toy-related deaths are not very common. She said 17 occurred nationwide last year, with none reported in Rhode Island.

Still, RIPIRG is helping consumers to identify which toys could cause harm.

Back in the 1970’s lead was identified as a harmful toxin, and has since been removed from many products like cookware and paint. However, current regulations do not ban the substance from toys entirely, and allow small quantities of lead to be used.

As of August 2011, toys containing more than 100 parts per million (ppm) of lead are banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), but existing toys that met prior standards of 300 ppm or less can still be sold.

Still, out of the toys tested for the 2011 report, RIPIRG found 7 toys that contained lead. However, only 2 of the toys are in violation of the current standards. The two toys in violation are the “Little Hands of Love” book by Piggy Toes Press and LL’s Whirly Wheel.

“Little Hands of Love” is a book marketed towards toddlers and includes pages with various types of textures for them to touch and feel. It contains 720 ppm of lead.

Pierannunzi said there is a danger that toddlers would chew on the book or put it in their mouths while playing with it.

The Whirly Wheel contains 3,700 ppm of lead, and can pose a similar threat if a younger child gets a hold of it.

Phthalates are another type of toxic chemical found in children’s toys, and have been known to cause birth defects, premature puberty and lowered sperm counts. Like lead, the danger lies in ingesting the phthalate, which would occur if a child chewed on the product.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 banned certain types of phthalates in quantities larger than 1000 ppm, but RIPIRG still found two toys of those tested to contain excess quantities of the chemicals.

Funny Glasses by Joking Around and a sleep mask by Claire’s both contained the harmful chemical. The glasses contained 42,000 ppm, and the mask contained 77,000.

Choking is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five, and Pierannunzi said that parents must be extra vigilant about looking at choking hazard warnings and age labels on toys. The RIPIRG study found that most toys that would pose a choking hazard are properly labeled, but parents should still use discretion and caution.

If they are unsure of whether or not the toy will cause a choking hazard, they should test it using a toilet paper roll.

Pierannunzi demonstrated by dropping a small plastic dinosaur through the toilet paper tube.

“If it slips through, it can pose a chocking hazard for kids,” he said.

The RIPIRG report listed 12 toys that would present potential choking hazards to children, including small balls bought in vending machines (unlabelled) and an “Oscar the Grouch” doll by Sesame Workshop.

One of the final aspects Pierannunzi discussed on Tuesday was toy loudness, an issue that could cause deafness, he said.

“One in five children will develop some level of hearing loss by the age of 12,” he said.

CPSC regulations prohibit handheld toys from being louder than 85 decibels when held about 10 inches away from the child.

Pierannunzi demonstrated an excessively loud toy Tuesday morning. He pressed a button on the back of a Hotwheels Super Stunt RAT BOMB truck, which shook noisily and played loud sounds.

“It may not sound loud in this room,” he said, but when held close to a child’s face, it could cause hearing loss over time.

The Hotwheels toy had a decibel level of 93. Along with the truck, two other products were found to be in violation of the excessive loudness standards.

“There’s no reason why any of these toys should cause danger,” said Pierannunzi.

This year’s is the 26th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report the RIPIRG has released. Since they began their assessment of toys, the list of recalled toys has shrunken.

“We’re making great improvements,” said Morrissey on Tuesday. “There are far fewer recalls this year than in previous years.”

“There’s always room for improvement,” he said, “But we’re making gains in the area.”

The full report and list of RIPIRG’s “potentially hazardous” toys can be found online at www.warwickbeacon.com.


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