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NATIONAL PIRG SURVEY
FINDS HAZARDOUS TOYS

Despite passage of the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act, hazardous toys can still be found on toy store shelves across the country, according to a nationwide toy safety survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). While the group's 13th annual survey noted some signs of improvement for safer toys, there were still 13 toy deaths in 1997 from unsafe toys. For the first time, the report includes a number of plastic PVC teething toys posing toxic hazards from phthalates.

"Children are still needlessly choking to death on toys and dangerous toys can still be found on toy shelves," said Edmund Mierzwinski, Consumer Program Director. "Our thirteenth national survey of toy stores finds that the number of toy hazards appears to be declining and the vast majority of toys finally include tough new choke hazard warnings that will help prevent future deaths. But parents must remember that the government does not test all toys. Just because a toy appears on the shelf, or fails to appear on PIRG’s list, doesn't mean it is safe," he added.

The annual PIRG "Trouble in Toyland" report lists 24 dangerous toys discovered during a survey of toy stores across the country. At least 5 of the toys violate the Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) small parts standard designed to prevent choking deaths. Four toys violate the CPSC's new small ball regulations. Other toys narrowly evade the small parts standard, but still pose choking and other hazards. The annual PIRG reports have resulted in 50 recalls and other enforcement actions in the last 13 years.

The PIRG report highlights the choking hazards associated with toys. Federal regulations ban any toy that poses a choking hazard because of small parts if it has "play value" for children under the age of three, regardless of any age labeling to the contrary. The group also warned parents of the choking hazards associated with balls. The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act banned the sale of small balls with a diameter of less than 1.75 inches for sale for children under three.

"Tragically, children choke to death on balls that are small enough to be put in the mouth and obstruct the airway," added Mierzwinski. "Unfortunately,ball-shaped objects, such as toy plastic fruits and vegetables, which pose the same hazards as balls, are not treated as balls by the CPSC," added Mierzwinski.

Choking on small toy parts, balloons and small balls continues to be the leading cause of toy-related deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 160 children died from 1990 to 1997 playing with toys. In 1997 alone, 13 children died playing with toys, 11 of those from choking. In 1997, an estimated 141,300 persons were treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Nearly half, 65,400, were under 5 years old. One tragic example from this year's statistics was a 2 year old who choked on a small plastic game piece. A 5-month old child choked to death on a balloon piece. Forty-eight children have choked to death on balloons since 1990. PIRG criticized retailers for marketing balloons for events for young children, having found balloons that read, for example, "Baby's 1st Birthday."

"Balloons are the leading choking killer," added Mierzwinski. "It is totally inappropriate to market balloons for toddlers," Mierzwinski said. "We urge parents to avoid balloons altogether for children under 8, and even then to use extreme caution."

For the first time, the report also focused on the growing hazard of toys containing toxic chemicals known as phthalates that are added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic toys as a softener. The chemicals are linked to liver and kidney damage, are probable human carcinogens, and have already been banned by several European countries in toys for children under 3 because exposure to toxic chemicals is especially dangerous to small children. PIRG joined other leading consumer and environmental groups in a formal petition to the CPSC calling for a for a ban on PVC in all toys intended for children under 5, to ensure that children are protected from all hazards related to PVC plastics.

"It is outrageous that a scientist who buys a bottle of phthalate chemicals receives a full hazard warning, but a mother buying a teething toy with phthalates often finds it labeled non-toxic," added Mierzwinski. "Young children should not be chewing on toxic toys."

"Shoppers should examine toys carefully for hidden dangers before they make a purchase," Mierzwinski added. "While most manufacturers should be commended for complying with the new law, parents should not assume that all toys on store shelves are safe or adequately labeled," continued Mierzwinski.

Source: Trouble in Toyland: The 1998 PIRG Survey of Dangerous Toys


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