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“Hidden hazards” in children’s toys still abound

Washington, DC: Hazardous toys are still sold in stores across the country, despite a new law overhauling the nation’s product safety watchdog agency, according to the 23rd annual toy safety survey released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The group also warned that the Consumer Product Safety Commission may delay one of the new law’s toxic toy protections indefinitely.

“While the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is a major step forward, many of its protections don’t take effect until 2009, so it’s still ‘buyer beware’ for this shopping season,” said U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Liz Hitchcock. “Worse, last week the CPSC told companies that they could keep selling toys with toxic phthalate chemicals until they ran out of them, despite the law’s clear prohibition against selling them after Feb. 10.”

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy-related injuries sent more than 80,000 children under the age of five to emergency rooms in 2007. Eighteen children died from toy-related injuries that year.

For 23 years, the PIRG “Trouble in Toyland” report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards.

Because the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed in August 2008, established new standards for lead and phthalates, PIRG’s research this year used laboratory tests to identify toys that contain those toxic chemicals.

Among the findings of the 2008 Trouble In Toyland:

Toxic Phthalates: Numerous scientists have documented the potential health effects of exposure to phthalates in the womb or at crucial stages of development, including (but not limited to) reproductive defects, premature delivery, early onset of puberty and lower sperm counts. Effective February 2009, the CPSIA bans toys that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of a toxic chemical called Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. PIRG found toys that contained concentrations of phthalates of up to 40 percent.

“Congress clearly intended the new law to stop the sale of toys containing toxic phthalates in February, but last week’s CPSC legal opinion told manufacturers that they can keep selling the remaining millions of hazardous toys until they run out, which could take years,” said Hitchcock. “Congress gave America’s littlest consumers the gift of safety—they should not let the CPSC take it away.”

Hitchcock noted that U.S. PIRG and congressional champions intended to take every possible action to overturn the CPSC decision and restore the February 2009 ban on sale of toxic phthalate-laden toys.

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 percent lead. PIRG researchers went to just a few stores and easily found three children’s toys containing high levels of lead or lead paint. One piece of jewelry was 45 percent lead by weight, or more than 750 times current CPSC action levels.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will eventually ban lead except at trace amounts in paint or coatings (90 ppm limit as of August 2009) or in any toys, jewelry or other products for use by children under 12 years old (100 ppm limit as of August 2011 after scheduled interim reductions beginning February 2009).

“Congress took important steps to address the serious health risks that lead poses to children, yet consumers can still find lead-laden children’s jewelry and lead painted toys on store shelves until the protections take effect next year,” continued U.S. PIRG’s Hitchcock.

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 required an explicit prominent choke hazard warning on toys with small parts for children aged between three and six. Researchers found toys with small parts for children under the age of six that lacked the required explicit choke hazard warning.

“The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act gave the CPSC the tools it needs to do a better job,” said Hitchcock. “Now it’s up to Congress to fully fund those tools and for the CPSC to vigorously carry out its new responsibilities.”

Hitchcock also reminded parents that the toy list in the PIRG report is only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves, and urged consumers to shop with a copy of PIRG’s Tips for Toy Safety.

“Shoppers should remember to examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before making a purchase this holiday season,” concluded Hitchcock.



  1. “Congress clearly intended the new law to stop the sale of toys containing toxic phthalates in February, but last week’s CPSC legal opinion told manufacturers that they can keep selling the remaining millions of hazardous toys until they run out, which could take years

    This article and especially this statement is misleading. The CPSC’s General Counsel, not the CPSC, advised that the plain language of the act — with regard to phthalates — was not supposed to be applied to children’s goods manufactured before the 10 February 2009 deadline. It is, however, applied to all children’s goods manufactured after that date. They did rule that the language of that same act regarding lead would apply on that date regardless of when they were manufactured, so many manufacturers and/or retailers are looking at enormous backlogs that will become illegal to sell on 10 February, regardless of whether they have lead or not. Why? I will explain.

    The statements by PIRG in this article would lead the average consumer to believe that phthalates and lead are ubiquitous throughout the toy industry. It is simply not true that any significant number of those 80,000 emergency room injuries have anything to do with phthalates or lead.

    What the PIRG, Public Citizen, NRDC, Senator Feinstein, and Representatives Waxman, Schakowsky, and DeGette have failed to note in any of their protests are the devilish details of this law. The law applies to a startling array of goods including toys, clothing, strollers, hair bows, astroturf, electronics, and many more items because it is directed at children’s goods, children being defined as anyone under 12. The manufacturers of these goods include everyone from giants Haynes to the grandpa who makes wooden toys to sell on E-bay. What they each must do is not simply not use lead or phthalates, which most of them already don’t, but they must also send them to certified testing labs and obtain a certificate to prove they are lead and phthalate free. They must also be able to trace those tests to lots. They may also have to put up a bond in case of recall.

    What if they use organic cotton and organic dyes? Too bad, they must test. What if they are already testing to more stringent EU standards? Too bad, now you have to pay for an additional test. Toy makers HABA and Selecta have already announced withdrawals from the US market. Grandpa is done. Haynes may survive, but children can now look forward to a wardrobe consisting solely of home-made or mass-produced clothing, toys, and other goods.

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