Study warns parents of possible toy hazards

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As parents gear up to spoil their kids this holiday season, some people are asking them to be mindful of what’s going under the tree this holiday season.

The Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released its 29th annual survey of toy safety. In it, PIRG identified five toys with higher than acceptable toxins like lead and chromium. The study also found numerous toys with choking hazards.

One of the major contaminants found in children’s toys is lead. Though products have veered away from lead over the past decades, the chemical is still present and allowable in small amounts. But, as the PIRG study notes, even low-level exposure in children can “undermine development, damaging academic achievement and attentiveness.” The study found unsafe levels of lead in a set of play sheriff and police badges.

PIRG also looked at chromium, phthalates and batteries in toys. In addition to examining potentially dangerous chemical levels in toys, PIRG also studied toys that present choking hazards. Many toys contain small parts that could block a young child’s airway if ingested. Those parts are allowed under federal safety regulations, but product packaging must warn consumers the danger is there. PIRG found several products that did not contain a choking hazard warning.

Other products classified as “small balls” present choking hazards for children, but don’t require warning labels. For example, rubber balls in vending machines could easily be choked on by a young child. PIRG also notes items like pretend food that are small enough to be lodged in an airway.

The study places some onus on parents to examine toys for these parts. However, part of the Trouble in Toyland study’s intent is to inform policy makers who can push for tougher safety regulations and better implementations by standards already in place.

“I want families to have a happy and safe holiday. I highlight reports like Trouble in Toyland every year to empower today’s consumers with the information they need to keep their little ones safe,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor during a demonstration at All Children’s Hospital Monday.

The study asks lawmakers to “vigorously enforce” the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act including the ban on three specific phthalates in all toys and children’s products and the mandatory standards for lead in products intended for children under 12.

“This is also an annual reminder of the additional tools consumers have year-round at their fingertips since the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed in 2008,” Castor said. “This includes saferproducts.gov, where consumers can submit reports and search the database for product hazard reports.”

PIRG also calls on elected officials to push for extending standards for toys with round ends to apply to children under 6 instead of under 4 and include semi-round objects in the small-ball rule. They also recommend enlarging the “small parts test tube” to be more protective to children under 3.

Those recommendations do little for parents now, though. In the meantime guardians can take their own safety precautions at home. That includes removing small batteries from any items where there are questions about accessibility to children, tape over speakers of products that are potentially too loud and removing small parts from toys.

PIRG offers a list of toy safety tips on its education fund website. Some of those include buying large toys for children under 6, avoid giving balloons to children under 8 and purchasing helmets if giving a child a ride on toy like a bicycle or skateboard.

“As parents venture into crowded malls and browse for the perfect toy on the Internet this holiday season, they should remain vigilant about often‐hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves, particularly as more and more toys are imported from countries where toy safety is not as stringent,” Florida Consumer Action Networks’s Olivia Babis said. “PIRG’s report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.”

The Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine offered a demonstration on how to safely use toys this holiday season.

“From choking hazards to exposure to toxic chemicals, there are many injuries and medical problems seen in emergency departments across the nation due to children’s toys,” said Joe Perno, M.D., pediatric emergency medicine physician and medical director for care coordination at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We want to help parents know and understand the safety risks in order to protect their children year-round.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.