SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 27, 2013

Hazard toys highlighted in MASSPIRG report

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — SALEM — Cam Ostrow brought several new toys to the Salem Community Child Care Center yesterday morning, but the kids weren’t allowed to play with them.

Hidden behind the colorful packaging, Ostrow said, are toys that can be dangerous for children. And they’re available on store shelves this holiday season.

Ostrow, a consumer advocate with MASSPIRG (Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group), came to the center yesterday to highlight hazards reported in the organization’s 28th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report. The report has led to more than 150 recalls over the years.

The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which can be harmful to children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that could damage hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

“We found these toys everywhere, from little stores like dollar stores to big retail stores like Toys R Us,” Ostrow said.

The items considered dangerous included a Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pencil case and a Fisher-Price “Laugh and Learn” remote. There were also small toys that cause a choking hazard and highly magnetic toys, which are dangerous when swallowed.

Choking hazards are considered the No. 1 danger, Ostrow said.

The pencil bag contains high levels of cadmium and phthalates, both of which are toxic, Ostrow said. Phthalates are used to soften plastics. The pencil case contains 150 times more phthalates than the legal limit for toys or child care articles, she said — but it’s still legal.

“This toy actually doesn’t break any federal standards despite having higher levels of the highly toxic [material],” she said.

“Unfortunately, a little loophole for this toy is it can be argued that it is not a toy or a child care article, so it is allowed to have those high levels of phthalates. But we know that any children with this product or a product intended to be used by children can easily become a chew toy, especially for younger children.”

MASSPIRG found several toys with high lead levels, including a toddler toy with 29 times the legal limit of lead (2,900 ppm), and play jewelry with twice the legal limit (200 ppm).

“Some of the most dangerous hazards that are posed by toys are invisible,” Ostrow said.

The Fisher-Price “Laugh and Learn” phone is on the list because it exceeds the noise standard recommended by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Toys should not exceed 85 decibels or 65 decibels if they can be held close to the ear, according to the report.

“It reaches 90 decibels,” Ostrow said. “And it can clearly and easily be held near a child’s ear.”

Salem state Rep. John Keenan spoke at the small press conference and thanked the group for their vigilance over nearly 30 years. He said it is important for parents to know about potentially dangerous toys.

“It is amazing to me that, year after year, you continually find toys that are actually dangerous,” he said. “You would think the manufacturers are good enough to figure them out on their own, but I guess when profit is the motivating factor it doesn’t always come into consideration.”

Christin Hatch, director of the Community Child Care Center, agreed.

“Parents aren’t always aware of these hazards,” she said.

Choking hazards highlighted in the report include Littlest Pet Shop horse and Sonic Sound Sizzlers, magnets that pose a threat to children if swallowed.

“The MASSPIRG report only includes some examples of potentially hazardous toys, but there still could be many more on the shelves,” Ostrow said. “So make sure you fully examine toys before you buy them.”

For 28 years, the “Trouble in Toyland” report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. The group also provides a Facebook quiz to help educate parents and others about toy-related hazards.

“Over the past five years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market,” the group said in a statement. “Improvements made in 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates.”

For more information and the full report, go to uspirgedfund.org.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.