The 2009 Trouble in Toyland report is the 24th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.
This years report focused on three categories of toy hazards: toys that may pose choking hazards, toys that are excessively loud, and toys that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates. This years report is interesting because it is the first year that any effect would be felt from The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), which greatly strengthened the clout of the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC) to promulgate and enforce rules.
Last year we wrote about toy hazards the CPSC identified for the holiday season. In a great bonanza for real-time childrens’ safety, U.S. PIRG has also launched a new, interactive mobile phone tool and website (http://www.toysafety.mobi) that allows shoppers to check on possible hazards while at the store, or before they go shopping, as well as report hazards they find. Shoppers can report potential dangers they find on toy store shelves from their mobile phones or home computers.
This interactive use of the internet goes one step further than the ability to sign-up for e-mail alerts or RSS feeds such as for tire recalls. CHOKING – Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toy- related deaths and injuries. Between 1990 and 2007, at least 196 children died after choking or asphyxiating on a toy or toy part; three children died in 2008 alone. U.S. PIRGS analysis of recalls and other actions taken by the CPSC from January 1- November 10, 2009 revealed that choking hazards were the leading cause of such actions. In 2009, 5.3 million toys and other childrens products have been pulled from store shelves due to choking hazards.
EXCESSIVE LOUDNESS – Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss. In March 2007, the American Society for Testing and Materials adopted a voluntary acoustics standard for toys, setting the loudness threshold for most toys at 85 decibels, and for toys intended for use close to the ear at 65 dB.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act made most ASTM F963-07 standards mandatory. U.S. PIRGfound that toys currently on store shelves may not meet the standards for appropriately loud toys. Some toystested exceeded 85 decibels when measured at close range. LEAD – Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system. Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act bans lead except at trace amounts in paint or coatings (90 ppm limit as of August 2009), and in any toys, jewelry or other products for use by children under 12 years old (300 ppm limit as of August 2009, and 100ppm by August 2011). So far in 2009, CPSC has recalled nearly 1.3 million toys or other childrens products for violations of the lead paint standard. The CPSC has recalled an additional 102,700 toys and other childrens products for violation of the 300 ppm lead standard. Some childrens toys and jewelry may contain high levels of lead. In one case, U.S. PIRG found a piece of jewelry that contained 71% lead by weight. It also found toys that exceed the CPSIAs lead paint standards.
PHTHALATES – Numerous scientists have documented the potential health effects of exposure to phthalates – widely used to make plastic products softer – in the womb or at crucial stages of development. U.S. EPA studies show that the cumulative impact of different phthalates leads to an exponential increase in associated harm. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), levels of phthalates found in humans are higher than levels shown to cause adverse health effects. The data also show phthalate levels are highest in children. Section 108 of the CPSIA bans toys containing three classes of phthalates for all children, and bans toys containing three more phthalates if they can be put in younger childrens mouths. This year,U.S. PIRG found two toys that laboratory testing showed to contain levels of phthalates that exceed limits allowed by the CPSIA – a lunch bag and a purse.
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