News Release

Consumer Group Alerts Shoppers to Hidden Toy Hazards

Calls passage of strong reforms good step forward, but warns “Buyer Beware” this year
For Immediate Release:

Hartford, CT--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 Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG). The group also warned that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is taking actions to 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 won’t be in effect until 2009, so it’s still Buyer Beware for this shopping season,” said ConnPIRG’s Ilicia Balaban. “Worse, last week the CPSC told companies that they could continue to sell toys with toxic phthalate chemicals until they ran out of them, instead of complying with the law’s clear prohibition against selling them after February 10th.” 

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal added, “We will strongly fight this unfounded federal opinion that puts profit over infant health— potentially inflicting irrevocable harm from phthalate laden toys. Permitting and prolonging sales of dangerous child products—simply because they’re on store shelves or in inventory—is intolerable, illogical and illegal. Repeated studies reveal risk of harm to the endocrine and reproductive systems of infants exposed to phthalates, used in plastic production for baby bottles, toys, and other products. The consumer product safety commissioners’ council wrongly and arbitrarily claims that a federal prohibition on certain phthalates in children’s products allows continues sales—indefinitely—after the laws effective date in February. My office will challenge it—upholding the plain language of the law.”

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. The chair of the Child Fatality Review Panel in CT, State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein said, “I never want to review a fatality of a child who died because of a toy related injury.  These deaths are preventable. Strong regulation and oversight of the toy industry is paramount.”

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

Because of the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August 2008, ConnPIRG’s research this year focused on new standards for toxic toy dangers enacted by the law, using laboratory tests to identify toys that contain lead and toxic phthalates.

Among the findings of the 2008 Trouble In Toyland:

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

“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 Balaban. 

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 puberty, and lower sperm counts. Effective February 2009, the CPSIA bans toys for children that contain concentrations more than 0.1% of a toxic chemical used in plastics called phthalates.  ConnPIRG found toys that contained concentrations of phthalates up to 40%.

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

Balaban noted that ConnPIRG’s DC office 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.

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. ConnPIRG found toys with small parts for children under six without the required explicit choke hazard warning. 

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

Balaban called on Congress and the CPSC to do the following:

  • CPSC should vigorously enforce the CPSIA’s strong protection against lead and reverse its recent decision allowing continued sale of toxic phthalates in children’s products. CPSC must also move swiftly to implement all rules required under the new law;  must ensure that new third-party testing programs meet the new law’s standards; and, must also move quickly to implement the new law’s publicly-accessible hazards database requirement.

  • Congress and the Administration should work to overhaul U.S. toxics policy to begin to assess the thousands of chemicals currently on the market for which little or inadequate health data are available, and to require manufacturers to ensure that they are using the least hazardous chemicals possible.

  • Congress should fully fund the CPSC’s increased budget authorizations for the next five fiscal years, and conduct vigorous oversight over the implementation of the new law.

Balaban also reminded parents that the toy list in the ConnPIRG 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, included in the report and at www.toysafety.net.

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

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