Florida PIRG Alerts Shoppers to Hidden Toy Hazards

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Brad Ashwell

Florida PIRG Education Fund

Tallahassee, FL — Hazardous toys are still sold in stores across the country, despite a new law overhauling the nation’s product safety watchdog agency, according to the 23rd annual toy safety survey released today by the Florida Public Interest Research Group (Florida PIRG). The group also warned that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is taking actions to delay one of the new law’s toxic toy protections indefinitely.

“While the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is a major step forward, many of its protections won’t be in effect until 2009, so it’s still Buyer Beware for this shopping season,” said State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

“Worse, last week the CPSC told companies that they could continue to sell toys with toxic phthalate chemicals until they ran out of them, instead of complying with the law’s clear prohibition against selling them after February 10th,” said Brad Ashwell, Florida PIRG’s Consumer Advocate.

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy-related injuries sent more than 80,000 children under the age of five to emergency rooms in 2007.  Eighteen children died from toy-related injuries in that same year.

For 23 years, the Florida PIRG Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards.

Because of the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August 2008, Florida PIRG’s research this year focused on new standards for toxic toy dangers enacted by the law, using laboratory tests to identify toys that contain lead and toxic phthalates.

Among the findings of the 2008 Trouble in Toyland Report:

Lead in Toys and Children’s Jewelry: Children exposed to lead can suffer lowered IQ, delayed mental and physical development and even death.  In 2006, a four year old died of lead poisoning after he swallowed a bracelet charm that contained 99% lead. PIRG researchers went to just a few stores and easily found three children’s toys or jewelry containing high levels of lead or lead paint. One piece of jewelry we found was 45% lead by weight, or more than 750 times current CPSC action levels.

Luckily, PIRG shoppers in Florida did not find the same toys and jewelry containing high levels of lead but the fact that they were found so easily in other states means that consumers should remain cautious.

“Congress took important steps to address the serious health risks that lead poses to children, yet consumers can still find lead-laden children’s jewelry and lead painted toys on store shelves until the protections take effect next year,” said Representative Vasilinda.

Toxic Phthalates:  Numerous scientists have documented the potential health effects of exposure to phthalates in the womb or at crucial stages of development, including (but not limited to) reproductive defects, premature delivery, early onset puberty, and lower sperm counts. Effective February 2009, the CPSIA bans toys for children that contain concentrations more than 0.1% of a toxic chemical used in plastics called phthalates.  Florida PIRG found toys that contained concentrations of phthalates up to 40%.

“Congress clearly intended that the new law would also stop the sale of toys containing toxic phthalates in February, but last week’s CPSC legal opinion told manufacturers that can keep selling the remaining millions of hazardous toys until they run out, which could take years,” said Ashwell. “Congress gave America’s littlest consumers the gift of safety—they should not let the CPSC take it away.”

Ashwell noted that Florida PIRG’s DC office and Congressional champions intended to take every possible action to overturn the CPSC decision and restore the February 2009 ban on sale of toxic phthalate-laden toys.

Choking Hazards: In 1979, the CPSC banned the sale of toys for children younger than three if they contain small parts.  The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act required an explicit prominent choke hazard warning on toys with small parts for children aged between three and six. Florida PIRG found toys with small parts for children under six without the required explicit choke hazard warning.

“The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act gave the CPSC the tools it needs to do a better job for America’s littlest consumers,” said Ashwell.  “Now it’s up to Congress to fully fund them and for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to vigorously carry out its new responsibilities.”

Ashwell called on Congress and the CPSC to do the following:

  • CPSC should vigorously enforce the CPSIA’s strong protection against lead and reverse its recent decision allowing continued sale of toxic phthalates in children’s products. CPSC must also move swiftly to implement all rules required under the new law;  must ensure that new third-party testing programs meet the new law’s standards; and, must also move quickly to implement the new law’s publicly-accessible hazards database requirement.
  • Congress and the Administration should work to overhaul U.S. toxics policy to begin to assess the thousands of chemicals currently on the market for which little or inadequate health data are available, and to require manufacturers to ensure that they are using the least hazardous chemicals possible.
  • Congress should fully fund the CPSC’s increased budget authorizations for the next five fiscal years, and conduct vigorous oversight over the implementation of the new law.

Ashwell also reminded parents that the toy list in the Florida PIRG report is only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves, and urged consumers to shop with a copy of PIRG’s Tips for Toy Safety, included in the report here.

“Shoppers should remember to examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before you make a purchase this holiday season,” Representative Vasilinda concluded.

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Florida PIRG (the Florida Public Interest Research Group) takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being.  The full report is available at www.floridapirg.org.