WASHINGTON – It's all fun and games until someone absorbs hazardous levels of lead. Or chokes on a small toy. Or swallows dangerous,high-powered magnets.
Toy buying just isn't what it used to be.
And despite 61 toy recalls this year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that resulted in more than 25 million products being pulled from store shelves,consumer advocacy groups warned Tuesday that dangerous toys still make it to market.
“Toys today are undergoing more inspection and more intense scrutiny than ever before,” Nancy Nord,acting CPSC chief,said in a statement.
The US Public Interest Research Group disagrees.
In its 22nd annual toy-safety report,”Trouble in Toyland,” the group found 59 products,most of which had not been recalled,that fall into four dangerous categories:
- Toys with potential for choking,anything that will fit into an empty toilet paper roll. For example,the Bob the Builder Dancing Bob's hammer top can twist off.
- Toys with powerful magnets,which can cause intestinal blockage. Claire's Magnetic Earrings come with tiny magnets to attach them to a child's earlobe.
- Toys with toxic chemicals,notably lead. The yellow cow in the Qausini Special Design Farm Set contains 860 parts per million of lead,260 ppm over the limit.
- Toys that exceed recommended noise levels,which can cause permanent hearing loss. Several toy guns,including the Uni Toys Special Ops Force 45 Electronic Sound Pistol,register as high as 107 decibels at near range. Any noise higher than 90 decibels can cause hearing loss.
In 2005,20 children under the age of 13 died from toy-related injuries,and another 200,000 people sought emergency treatment,according to the CPSC. Since 1990,more than 160 children have died from choking on toys alone.
Nord,issued a two-page report asking parents to “stay informed” about the recalls. She also provided a parents' shopping guide that emphasizes reading product warning labels and checking the CPSC Web site for more information.
The CPSC is responsible for more than 15,000 consumer products,ranging from action figures to escalators to all-terrain vehicles: essentially all the products not specifically covered by other federal agencies.
Nord maintains that the agency has increased its efforts to test toys and keep dangerous products off the market and touts new agreements with the Chinese government to conduct inspections before exporting materials to the U.S.
US PIRG and Center for Environmental Health say relying on the Chinese government is not the best way to regulate toys,and not all toys are made there.
Most of the high-profile recalls this year have been caused by excess levels of lead. Exposure to lead can cause a range of medical problems such as neurological disorders,cardiovascular problems and renal disease. The federal government banned products with more than 6 parts per million lead.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen,D-Md.,blamed the “tidal wave” of toy recalls this year on the CPSC's “broken” regulatory system at PIRG's news conference Tuesday.
“Toy manufacturers are not afraid of the CPSC. They are not afraid of it taking enforcement. They're not afraid because,in fact,what you have there is a paper tiger,” Van Hollen said.
Ed Mierzwinksi,US PIRG consumer program director,said part of the problem is the CPSC's $63 million budget,which is less than half of its initial 1974 budget of $34 million when corrected for inflation.
The Center for Environmental Health also published its report Tuesday – just days before the holiday shopping season begins. The Oakland,Calif., organization sampled 100 products from Target Corp.,Wal-Mart Inc. and Disney stores and found that nine toys contained more than double the legal limit for lead in paint. A ceramic tea set contained 12,600 ppm,more than 20 times the federal standard.
Six more products contained less than 600 ppm,but more than the 300 ppm recommended by various consumer and health organizations.
The Campaign for America's Future,a progressive non-profit,posted a video on YouTube calling for Nord's ouster,using a Ken and Barbie satire about lead poisoning. The clip references stories that broke earlier this year that toy manufacturers were paying for some of Nord's trips to manufacturers' conventions.
Bills moving through Congress would revamp the CPSC process. One sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro,D-Conn.,would require independent third-party testing for children's products,defined as any product intended for children up to age 12.
US PIRG and CEH oppose attempts to attach to the bills an amendment that would preclude any office except the CPSC from enforcing toy-safety standards. That rule would forbid the type of lawsuit that California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed Monday against 20 companies – including Mattel Inc. and Toys “R” Us. Brown claims they sold toys with “unlawful quantities of lead.”
To request a copy of the US PIRG report,visit the group's Web site.