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Consumer group and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital alert shoppers to hidden toy hazards

Nov. 26, 2003, 3:47 PM

NASHVILLE – Hazardous toys can still be found on store shelves across
the country despite passage of the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act,
according to a nationwide survey released today by the U.S. Public
Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

More than 212,000 people sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms
in 2002 for toy-related injuries, of which more than a third were under
five years old. Thirteen children died from toy related injuries in
2002.

"We see preventable injuries every day in our emergency room, but with
toys we end up seeing young children who have airway obstruction, and
older kids are injuring themselves on moving toys like the new inline scooters," said
Dr. Veronica Gunn, a Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital pediatrician.

"Even one toy-related death is too many, because these deaths are
preventable," said Jill Johnson, Southeast Field Director, U.S. PIRG.

The annual U.S. PIRG Trouble in Toyland report, available at
www.toysafety.net, 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 pose choking hazards, toys that are dangerously loud, toys that
pose strangulation hazards or could form dangerous projectiles, and
toys that contain toxic chemicals.

Highlights of the report’s findings include:

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:

  • Manufacturers and retailers continue to sell toys that have small
    parts but are not labeled with the choke hazard warning required by law;
  • Balloons are still manufactured and marketed in shapes and colors
    attractive to young children and are often sold in unlabeled bins, in
    violation of the law requiring that they be labeled as unsafe for
    children younger than eight years old; and
  • Toy manufacturers are over-labeling toys by placing choke hazard
    warnings on items that do not contain small parts or small balls.

Dangerously Loud Toys: Just this month, the American Society for
Testing and Materials (ASTM) set a new acoustics standard for toys in
order to protect children’s hearing. The new standard says that
most toys should not produce a sound louder than 90 decibels when
measured from a distance of 25 centimeters. Close-to-the-ear
toys, like toy cell phones, should not exceed 70 decibels when measured
from a distance of 25 centimeters.

U.S. PIRG researchers tested several toys and found:

  • Several toys currently on toy store shelves may not meet the new ASTM standards for appropriately loud toys
  • Several toys currently on toy store shelves exceed 100 decibels
    when measured at close range. Prolonged exposure to sounds at 85
    decibels or higher can result in hearing damage.

Toxic Hazards: U.S. PIRG researchers surveyed more than 40 toy
manufacturers about their use of phthalates in children’s toys and
other products. Of those who responded, most reported that they
have stopped using phthalates in teethers, mouthing toys and other toys
and products intended for children under three, although several
admitted that toys for older children may contain these chemicals.

"The good news is that most manufacturers have responded to the
concerns of parents and scientists by phasing out phthalates in plastic
toys intended for children under three," noted Johnson. "The bad news
is that U.S. PIRG still found toxic chemicals in other children’s
products."

U.S. PIRG identified several children’s cosmetic sets containing xylene
and popular brands of polymer modeling clay containing high
concentrations of phthalates.

Yo-Yo Water Balls: Several countries, including the United Kingdom,
have banned the popular yo-yo water ball because of incidents in which
the toy wrapped tightly around children’s necks or caused other
injuries to the eyes, face and head. In September 2003, CPSC
announced that it would not recall the product. Instead, the
agency advised parents to supervise use of the toy, cut its cord, or
throw it away.

"CPSC should do more to alert parents to the very real and documented
hazards posed by this toy to children under 8," said Johnson.

"Relatives and friends who buy gifts for young children should be aware
that even if the manufacturer has put a label indicating the
appropriate age for use of that toy, you should still check with the
parents to be sure it’s really appropriate," said Dr. Gunn. "There
might be a toddler in the house too who could get a hold of small
parts."

U.S. PIRG called on CPSC to recall the yo-yo ball and issue a
moratorium on sales until manufacturers properly label the toys, by
warning that improper use can lead to strangulation and other bodily
injury and that the toy is not suitable for children under 8 years old.

Johnson 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," Johnson added. "While most manufacturers
comply with the law, parents should not assume that all toys on
store shelves are safe or adequately labeled," continued Johnson.

U.S. PIRG is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest
organization dedicated to environmental protection, consumer rights,
and good government. The full report is available at http://www.toysafety.net.

You can link to the report through the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital website at www.vanderbiltchildrens.com.

Contact: Carole Bartoo, V.C.H., (615) 322-4747
carole.bartoo@vanderbilt.edu

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