December 12, 2007
Hazardous toys are still sold in stores across the country, according to the 22nd annual toy safety survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

“While we have seen progress after more than two decades of advocacy on behalf of America’s littlest consumers, U.S. PIRG’s researchers still found trouble in toyland on store shelves this fall,” said U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director Ed Mierzwinski.

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy-related injuries sent almost 73,000 children under the age of five to emergency rooms in 2005. Twenty children died from toy-related injuries that year.

"As a father of three children, I know that toy safety is critical," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-8).  "As we head into the holiday season, parents must be especially vigilant because the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not been.  It has been shortchanged by the Bush Administration and AWOL when it comes to protecting consumers.  This holiday season let us ensure that the surprise our children receive is not a toxic stocking stuffer or dangerous toy that slipped by the CPSC. The new Congress is committed to keeping dangerous products off store shelves and holding irresponsible manufacturers accountable."

For 22 years, the U.S. PIRG 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.

U.S. PIRG’s 2007 research focused on several categories of toy dangers: toys that pose choking hazards, toys with powerful magnets, toys that contain lead, and toys that pose strangulation hazards. Most of the recalls this year have been for hazards identified in previous editions of the U.S. PIRG report—small powerful magnets, choking hazards and toys with excessive levels of toxic lead, Mierzwinski noted.

Among the hazards highlighted in the 2007 Trouble In Toyland report are:

Lead in Toys and Children’s Jewelry: Children exposed to lead can suffer lowered IQ, delayed mental and physical development and even death.  In 2006, a four year old died of lead poisoning after he swallowed a bracelet charm that contained 99% lead.  U.S. PIRG researchers went to just a few stores and easily found four children’s toys or jewelry containing high, actionable levels of lead. One piece of jewelry was 65% lead by weight-- more than one thousand times current CPSC action levels.

“We’ve known for decades that lead poses serious health risks to children, yet consumers can still find lead-laden children’s jewelry and lead painted toys on store shelves,” said Mierzwinski.

Magnetic Toys: Toymakers have started using powerful magnets in building toys, magnetic jewelry and children’s playsets.  If a child swallows more than one magnet, they can attract each other in the body and cause a bowel obstruction or life-threatening perforation.  A 22-month old boy died in 2005 and many others

have needed life-saving surgery after swallowing magnets. This year, the CPSC has recalled popular Mattel toys, including Barbie and Polly Pockets, for poorly designed magnets that fall out. Listed in the report are several examples of sloppily-designed or poorly-labeled magnetic toys found by PIRG researchers this fall.

Choking Hazards: In 1979, the CPSC banned the sale of toys for children younger than three if they contain small parts.  The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act requires an explicit choke hazard warning on toys with small parts for children between the ages of three and six.  U.S. PIRG found toys for children under three with banned small parts and toys with small parts for children under six that lacked the required choke hazard warning.
Other toy hazards found this year included toys containing other toxic chemicals, excessively loud toys, and strangulation hazards.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a little agency with a big job it simply cannot do,” said Mierzwinski. “Congress must give it the tools it needs to do that big job better.”

U.S. PIRG called on Congress to pass the strongest possible product safety reforms under consideration:

  • Ban lead except at trace amounts. The PIRG-backed HR 3691, the SAFE Consumer Product Act, sponsored by Rep. DeLauro (Conn.)and 153 co-sponsors, would reduce all lead levels – in paint or in the product -- to 40 parts per million -- the level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Increase the budget and staffing of CPSC. CPSC has only one toy tester and a tiny force of 15 inspectors to check millions of toys at hundreds of ports of entry.
  • Require companies to guarantee that their products have been subject to independent third party testing before they put them on toy store shelves.

“It doesn’t matter whether a toy is made in China or made in Kansas,” said Mierzwinski. “Companies have to make sure that it is safe.”

Mierzwinski noted that two other bills, the CSPC Reform Act, S 2045 (Pryor-AR), which is ready for Senate floor action, and the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act, HR 4040 (Rush-IL, Stearns-FL, Dingell-MI, Barton-TX), which is awaiting full Energy and Commerce committee action after Thanksgiving, are “good steps that include many of our proposed reforms, but should be improved in several areas.”

Mierzwinski also reminded parents that the toy list in the U.S. PIRG report is only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves.

“Shoppers should remember that no government agency tests toys. You should examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before you make a purchase this holiday season, and watch for further recalls,” Mierzwinski concluded.