Consumer Group Alerts Shoppers To Hidden Toy Hazards

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U.S. PIRG Petitions Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Toys Falsely Labeled “Phthalate Free”

Georgia PIRG Education Fund

WASHINGTON, DC– Hazardous toys continue to be sold in stores across the country, according to the 20th annual toy safety survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

“While we can report substantial progress after 20 years of advocacy on behalf of America’s littlest consumers, we are still finding trouble in toyland,” said Alison Cassady, Research Director with U.S. PIRG and author of the report.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), three-fourths of the 210,000 people who sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2004 were younger than 15. Sixteen children died from toy related injuries last year.

“Even one toy-related death is too many, because these deaths are preventable,” continued Cassady.

The 20th annual U.S. PIRG “Trouble in Toyland” report, offers safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. U.S. PIRG’s research focused on four categories of toy dangers: toys that contain toxic chemicals, toys that pose choking hazards, toys that are dangerously loud, and toys that pose strangulation hazards. Highlights of the report’s findings include:

Toxic Chemicals: Phthalates, a class of chemicals used to soften plastic toys and teethers, have been linked to a range of health effects, including reproductive defects and early onset puberty. Some manufacturers have started labeling their products as “phthalate-free.” U.S. PIRG commissioned an independent laboratory to test eight children’s toys and childcare articles—all labeled “phthalate-free.” Six of these eight products tested positive for phthalates.

“Instead of helping parents, these labels are deceiving parents,” stated Cassady.

This week, U.S. PIRG submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and the CPSC, asking them to investigate the validity of “phthalate-free” labels. U.S. PIRG also renewed its call for the CPSC to follow the European Union’s lead and ban phthalates in all products intended for children under age five.

“Children’s products simply should not contain toxic chemicals,” said Cassady.

Choking Hazards: Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. U.S. PIRG researchers found:

• Although most toys on store shelves are safe, U.S. PIRG researchers still found toys for children under three with small parts and toys with small parts for children under six without the choke hazard warning required by the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act.

• Some toy manufacturers are over-labeling toys by placing choke hazard warnings on items that do not contain small parts. This could dilute the meaning of the warning labels, making them less useful to parents.

• Mattel, a large toy manufacturer, now includes a vague warning on some of its toys, saying “Small parts may be generated.” If a toy contains small parts or can break easily into small parts that pose a choking hazard, the company should use the warning required by law. Toys without small parts should not include this confusing label.

Dangerously Loud Toys: In 2003, the American Society for Testing and Materials set voluntary acoustics standards for toys to protect children’s hearing, advising that most toys should not produce a sound louder than 90 decibels when measured from a distance of about 10 inches. U.S. PIRG researchers, however, found and tested several toys that exceed the 90 decibel standard. Prolonged exposure to sounds at 85 decibels or higher can result in hearing damage.

Strangulation Hazards: In June 2005, Illinois became the first state to ban the water yo-yo because of incidents in which the toy wrapped tightly around children’s necks or caused other injuries to the eyes, face and head. U.S. PIRG called on CPSC to follow Illinois’s lead and ban sales of all water yo-yo ball products immediately.

“CPSC should not wait until a child dies to protect children from the dangers posed by playing with this toy,” said Cassady.

Cassady noted that the toy list in the U.S. PIRG report is only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves. “Shoppers should examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before they make a purchase this holiday season,” she added. “While most manufacturers comply with the law, parents should not assume that all toys on store shelves are safe or adequately labeled,” concluded Cassady.