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Macomb Daily

Macomb Daily: Trouble in Toyland Persists

Choking hazards, toxins on gift lists
By
Catherine Kavanaugh

Baby’s first train by Haba looks like fun with its colorful wooden boxcars that can be easily latched together by thin pegs.

However, the wooden pegs can be easily swallowed, too. The pieces are only one centimeter longer than the choke test cylinder used to determine if a hazard warning should be put on a toy package.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group warned parents of the danger Wednesday with the release of its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report, which has led to 150 recalls and regulatory actions to protect children from unsafe products.

A mother in Washington, D.C., notified PIRG about what her son did with the small part of the train made for children age 1 and up and sold through Amazon.com.

“She watched her child swallow this piece and had to give her 1-year-old the Heimlich maneuver to save his life. This toy is not a legal violation but it is still a hazard,” said Meghan Hess, spokesperson for the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan.

Toy-related emergencies sent 250,000 children — 90,000 under the age of 5 — to emergency rooms in 2009; 12 died, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Donna Bucciarelli, a nurse at Beaumont Hospital, said choking hazards are the biggest toy threat to children. She urges everyone to learn the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge toys and food blocking someone’s airway.

“You’ve only got 2-3 minutes before brain damage occurs,” said Bucciarelli, who also is program manager at Safety City USA, Royal Oak, where PIRGIM released its findings.

The report says the Handy Manny Let’s Get Building construction set made by Fisher Price for children ages 3 and up also has small parts that don’t fit in the choke cylinder. Although the box has a warning, Hess said it is written in small print.

Hess tells parents not to rely on choking labels but to do their own test with a toilet paper tube, which is larger than the cylinder that triggers product warnings on toy packages.

“If a toy fits in a toilet paper tube, don’t give it to a child under 3,” Hess said.

Other toy dangers are harder to identify, she said, pointing to a purple Dora the Explorer backpack sold at the mall store Claire’s. A PIRG lab detected high levels of phthalates, which are a family of chemicals used to soften plastics. Exposure to phthalates can cause developmental and reproductive defects. However, only three classes have been banned for all children and three other classes are prohibited only in products that very young children might put in their mouths. The phthalate found in the backpack at a concentration of 150,000 parts per million isn’t regulated at all.

“It doesn’t violate the law, but we think it should. It’s still a toxic concern,” Hess said.

Lead in toys also continues to be a problem. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed in 2008 bans lead in toys, jewelry and products used by children under 12 — except for trace amounts in paint or coatings — but unsafe levels still are found.

In the last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled almost 1 million children’s products for violations of the lead and paint standards. PIRG found questionable levels in a Princess Expressions tiara and jewelry set sold at Kmart and a plush monkey in a banana by Play Pets.

“We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still danger in the toy box,” Hess said.

She also warned parents about a carcinogen called antimony that has been shown to cause lung cancer in animals. Sixty parts per million are allowed in surface coatings, but PIRG found 94 ppm on the silver part of a POLYFECT wild ranger toy gun from Family Dollar, 120 ppm in the handle of a Bright Stars baby book and 1,200 ppm on a pair of plastic toy handcuffs, both sold at Toys R Us.

To help shoppers make the best decisions about holiday gifts for children, PIRG has an interactive website that consumers can access from their smartphones at www.toysafety.mobi. The group’s toy report is at www.uspirg.org.

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