Take time to double-check toy safety this year

Nov. 28, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Elmo has a nasty secret: he’s too loud.

Most parents or grandparents stalking the toy aisles looking for an appropriate gift this holiday season need to watch for more than just price; they also must question the safety hazards a toy might create.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) has given every toy buyer two resources of information: the 26th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report detailing the level of safety in toys this year and a website, www.toysafety.mobi, that can be accessed by smartphones.

Isabelle Goodman of MASSPIRG at the YMCA of Greater Springfield made the local presentation of this year’s report on Nov. 22.

Goodman said that besides choking dangers presented by small objects — including beads, marbles, game pieces and balloons — the presence of lead and phthalates is still a problem as is the level of sound created by some toys.

“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,” Goodman said. “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.”

While some adults wouldn’t necessarily consider the effects of noise created by some toys, Goodman said that one in five children develop hearing loss problems by the age of 12 due to prolonged exposure to noise over 85 decibels.

She demonstrated a Hot Wheels toy car that tested at 93 decibels when held 10 inches away.

Key findings from the report include:

• “Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. Two toys contain levels of phthalates — a chemical that poses development hazards for small children — at 40 and 70 times allowable limits. Several toys violate current allowable lead limits (300 parts per million). Lead has negative health effects on almost every organ and system in the human body.

• Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under 3, we found toys available in stores that still pose choking hazards.

• We also found toys that are potentially harmful to children’s ears and exceed the hearing standards recommended by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.”

Goodman said the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is hampered by a lack of adequate funding and added MASSPIRG is advocating that Congress increase the commission’s budget.

“Parents and toy givers need to remember that while the CPSC is doing a good job, it doesn’t test all toys on the shelves. Consumers should also remember that toys that are not on our list of examples could also pose hazards,” Goodman said. “Our new Toy Tips explain the most common toy hazards and [is available on] our mobile app.”

While some of the toys featured in the report are generic or lack a name brand, there were a number of examples of well-known toy properties listed as being potentially hazardous.

Among those were a Hello Kitty eye shadow/keychain, a Tinker Bell watch and a Honda motorcycle all listed for lead content; a Sesame Street Oscar doll for choking hazard; and an Elmo’s World Talking Cell Phone for loudness.

State Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. also attended the press event, as he is a member of the House’s Consumer Protection Committee. He said of the report, “It’s important as we move into the holiday to kick this off.”

The father of two children, Puppolo said the report sends “a message of safety.”

To read the full report online, go to www.masspirgstudents.org/reports/26th-trouble-in-toyland.

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