November 23, 2005

Playing properly: survey finds potentially dangerous toys

By Anna Flavia Rocha e Silva
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Marbles aren’t safe for children under age 3, and if a water yo-yo ball is twirled like a lasso, it could strangle a child.

A survey released Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group identified these as among 40 toys widely available for sale that can pose hazards for children.

Despite those warnings, the toy survey also notes, “Toys are safer than ever before.”

PIRG has been releasing the survey, “Trouble in the Toyland,” annually for 20 years. The list focuses on toxic chemical toys, dangerously loud toys, toys that pose choking hazards and strangulation hazard toys.

In a news conference here, Alison Cassady, U.S. PIRG research director, said that any toy or object that can be placed inside a toilet paper roll is unsafe for children under 3 years old, who can choke on such small items. That includes some dolls’ small accessories.

She also showed an electronic toy guitar that registers 90 decibels at 10 inches, exceeding the limit of 85 decibels where hearing loss can occur, as determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The report found that some nail polish contains phthalates, a class of chemicals used to soften PVC plastic materials. The substance is considered to cause reproductive health problems, the early onset of puberty and even cancer, according to U.S. PIRG.

“That is the best time of the year for us to get our message out,” Cassady said, adding parents “should remain vigilant and read labels carefully and pay attention to potential hazards.”

There were more then 200,000 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms last year, according to an estimate from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC also reported 16 toy-related deaths of children under 15 last year – most of them caused by choking and asphyxia with balls and tricycle accidents.

Waiting outside the news conference with a response from the toy industry was Gary S. Klein, general council for the Toy Industry Association, which represents 500 manufacturers and importers of toys.

“I think it is important for parents understand that every toy on a shelf of a major retailer has been tested according to some very exacting standards to make sure that the toy is, in fact, going to be safe for the child for whom it is intended,” Klein said.

Although he hadn’t read this year’s survey, he said it is “pretty much a repeat of what they’ve done every year” and that the toys that PIRG lists are not dangerous.

“If they are played with correctly and they are purchased for the child at the appropriate age and the parents read the labels, then all of these toys are perfectly safe,” he said.

The Toys Industry Association accounts for 85 percent of toys distributed in the U.S. Klein said the association has tips for purchasing toys on its Web site and the group doesn’t “wait until the very end of the year to let parents know how to purchase a safe toy.”

For information about how to buy toys and the Toy Association Industry response to the PIRG report, visit

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