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New Report Offers Guidelines For Identifying Unsafe Toys

The annual holiday shopping season is here, and public advocacy groups are warning consumers to be on the lookout for hazardous toys.

The Missouri Public Interest Research Group (MoPIRG) has releasedits annual Trouble inToylandsurvey. It finds that despite government regulations, dangerous toys still make it to store shelves.  The report highlights four broad areas of concern:

  • Toxic chemicals,
  • Choking hazards,
  • Magnets, and
  • Extremely loud toys.

At a press conference in St. Louis on Tuesday, Alec Sprague, Midwest federal advocate for MoPIRG, said federal regulations that strengthen the ability of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect consumers have been on the books since 2008. Still, he said, several products make it to market even though they don't meet safety standards.
One example is the Captain America Soft Shield for ages two and up. When tested in a lab, the toy was found to have 29 times the federal legal standard for lead. Sprague says there are many reasons toys slip by unnoticed. Most commonly, it's that something marketed toward children isn't officially considered a toy. Sprague points to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pencil case as one example.

“This pencil case may be excluded from those rules because it can be argued that it is not a toy or a child-care article,” Sprague said.  “Really any item can end up as a chew toy for a younger child.“

Aside from toxic toys, Sprague said the standard used to determine if a toy is a choking hazard is probably outdated.  Holding up a bag of plastic fruit, Sprague pointed out that a golf-ball-sized plastic strawberry passes the Consumer Product Safely Commission's choking standard. However, it is still something a child could try to swallow and probably choke on.

“A better standard for determining if a toy poses a choking hazard is an item that everyone has access to: the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper,” Sprague said.  “If it fits in the tube, it's something a child can choke on.”

Besides, Sprague said, a plastic strawberry looks very real to a young child. All the more reason we can assume that a kid would try to eat it.

Sprague also discussed the dangers posed by loud toys. Specifically, toys that are 85 decibels or higher are considered not safe for children under 12. Loud toys are especially hazardous if the child holds the toy close to his or her ear for prolonged periods of time. Given the popularity of personal music players and toy telephones, there are many toys that could damage a kid's hearing.

Cathy Hogan, director of Safe Kids St. Louis at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, accompanied Sprague at the press conference where the report was released. Hogan noted that just checking if a toy is age appropriate may not be enough to protect children. 

“Children come in hordes,” Hogan said, citing how her own family includes grandchildren from 18 months to 5-years-old. “So we might buy toys that are appropriate for the older kids, but those little bitty kids are still in the house. They're still… my husband calls them 'hoovers.' They're like little vacuum cleaners. Everything goes in their mouth as exploration.”

If you're interested in more information, you can read the report on MoPIRG's website. Sprague says there is no single comprehensive list of dangerous toys. However, the report offers guidelines on how to identify potentially hazardous products.

Follow Shula Neuman on Twitter: @shuneu

Shula is the executive editor at St. Louis Public Radio.