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Dangerous Toys Still on the Shelves

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the typical holiday shopping frenzy upon us, many parents and grandparents have started or will be buying presents for the little ones in their...

With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the typical holiday shopping frenzy upon us, many parents and grandparents have started or will be buying presents for the little ones in their family.

While most toys meet government set safety standards, there are always a few that seem to slip through the cracks. U.S. Public Research Group (U.S. PIRG), a consumer group that pushes for toy safety and looks for common hazards in toys, just released its report “Trouble in Toyland” outlining toys that they consider dangerous.

The number one offender this year is “The Captain America Soft Shield”, for ages 2 and older, which they say contains 29 times more lead than allowed by law.

Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system.  Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children and can cause permanent mental and developmental impairments; it has no business being in children’s products.

The current federal legal lead standard is 100 parts per million (ppm), though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a lead limit of 40 ppm.

"You can still find hazardous toys made by big brands and sold by big retailers," says Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the group.

Among toys highlighted in the report are some made by toy giants Hasbro and Mattel.  The group purchased toys and tested them from major retailers including Walmart, Kmartand , Toys R Us and Babies R Us.

The report lists the Fisher-Price “Loving Family Outdoor Barbeque” as a danger because of plastic food items so small and realistic that toddlers could choke on them.

The report notes that there is not a comprehensive list of unsafe toys available for review, but warns parents to "examine toys carefully for potential dangers before you make a purchase." Below is from the U.S.PIRG “ Trouble in Toyland “ report.

Other Toxics in Toys

The current federal legal standard limits six kinds of phthalates to 1,000 ppm, and limits the amount of antimony and arsenic, cadmium and other elements that can leach out of toys. We found toxic chemicals including phthalates, antimony, and cadmium. “The Ninja Turtles Pencil Case” was found to contain 150,000 ppm of one of six phthalates banned from toys, as well as excessive levels (600 ppm) of the toxic metal cadmium.

Choking Hazards

Choking - on small toy parts, on small balls, on marbles and on balloons - continues to be the major cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. Between 2001 and 2012, more than 90 children died from choking incidents.

This year we found several toys that contained small parts or “near small part” toys. The toys containing small parts contained improper labels and might be mistakenly purchased for children under 3. The toys containing near small parts support our argument that the small parts test should be made more protective by making the test cylinder larger.

We also found some toy foods including both near small parts and other rounded ball-like foods that would fail the small ball test although they are technically subject to the less-stringent small parts test. Toy foods pose a special hazard, because they look to small children like something that should be eaten.

Five different Littlest Pet Shop toys made by Hasbro were cited in the report as potential choking hazards because of parts that can detach from the toy. There are no small-part warnings on the toys. The toys were purchased by U.S. PIRG at Walmart and Kmart. Hasbro spokeswoman Julie Duffy responded in a statement: "The entire Littlest Pet Shop line is age graded for children 4 years and older. The Littlest Pet Shop figures do not pose a choking hazard as regulations for small parts apply to products for under 3 years of age."

Magnets

Magnet toys made with neodymium iron boron magnets, such as the Buckyball magnets that are the subject of a CPSC court action, are still available and continue to cause accidents. CPSC staff have estimated that between 2009 and 2011 there were 1,700 emergency room cases nationwide involving the ingestion of high powered magnets.  More than 70% of these cases involved children between the ages of 4 and 12.

We also found ellipsoid toy magnets that nearly fit in the small parts cylinder, and are classified as a novelty “finger-fidget” toy. These magnets are smooth and shiny and sold in pairs; striking them together causes them to vibrate and produce a singing sound, making them appealing to children. CPSC has reported gastroenterological injuries associated with ellipsoid magnets.  If the magnet had fit in the small parts test cylinder, it would be banned for sale to children under 14. These, instead, were labeled “8 and up.”

Noisy Toys

Research has shown that a third of Americans with hearing loss can attribute it in part to noise. The third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that one in five U.S. children will have some degree of hearing loss by the time they reach age 12. This may be in part due to many children using toys and other children’s products such as music players that emit loud sounds.  The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advises that prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels will cause gradual hearing loss in any age range. Toys that are intended to be held close to the ear, are not to exceed 65 decibels. Toys that held within close range (in a lap or on a table) are not to exceed 85 decibels.

We found toys on store shelves that exceeded the limit of 65 decibels for toys held close to the ear. The “Chat & Count Smart Phone”, for example, produces sound measuring higher than 85 decibels when measured at 2.5 centimeters, and children may hold such toys pressed up against the ear.

Over the past five years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market.  Improvements made in 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) tightened lead limits, phased out dangerous phthalates, and required independent third party testing.  However, not all toys comply with the law, and holes in the toy safety net remain.

As for toys that may contain lead, the U.S.PIRG offers this advice,  “Parents should continue to be vigilant about metals in toys as they may contain lead or cadmium above the mandatory safety limits. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children be screened for exposure to lead. A simple and inexpensive blood test can determine whether or not a child has a dangerous level of lead in his or her body. The test can be obtained through a physician or public health agency.”

Sources: http://www.uspirgedfund.org

Bruce Horovitz, http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/11/26/us-public-research-group-toys-industry-hazardous-toys/3757521/

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More

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