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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Safe vs. Dangerous Toys - The Sad Toy Story

Many years ago, a child's toy might be something as simple as a block of wood. With a little imagination and some added engine noise, this child would have a toy car. A plain piece of rope was happily used to jump in time. Or a large, empty box was an exciting find for a child planning to use it as a clubhouse or a go-cart or Fort Knox. These days, if you handed a child one of these items, you would probably get a blank stare and a shrug as if to say, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

Toys today are sophisticated, colorful, 'able to do all sorts of things' items that range from furball pets to 3-wheelers to bug warriors to ugly dolls. There really is such a thing as Uglydolls, except now they are called Uglybuddies because they come with a smaller version stuffed in their front pouch. The bug warrior is real too. They're called Hexbug Warriors.

These are tiny robots that use nano vibration technology. The concept is kind of cute, where they buzz around a mock arena banging into each other with little weapons that move around on them until the last one standing is declared the victor. A LED light on their backs goes from green to yellow to red as they take hits until they no longer move at all and thus become one of the losers.

Toys are meant to delight and entertain children as well as inspire memories that will last a lifetime. However, when toys give off dangerous chemicals like lead or phthalates or cadmium, or present a choking hazard or contain small magnets, then toy stories become sad stories. Lead is often added to toys to make the plastic softer or more flexible. The problem arises when the toy is exposed to sunlight, air or detergents. This process causes the chemical bond between the plastic and the lead to breakdown, forming a dust which can easily be inhaled by the child as he/she plays with it.

In August of 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) added an ammendment that made it a law for toy manufacturers to produce toys with no more than 100 parts per million (pmm) of lead in their childrens toy products (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 40 ppm's). However, any toys already on the shelf with less than 300 parts per million can still be sold. Lower levels of lead in a child's bloodstream can cause ADHD and deficits in IQ, hand/eye coordination, vocabulary, fine motor skills and reaction time. Higher levels can cause permanent brain damage and death.

In January of this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 7,000 packs of Mexican Wrestling Action Figures for having too much lead in the surface paint. In September of this year, the CPSC recalled almost the same number of Captain Cutlass Pirate Toy Guns for the same reason. A report published and released November 20th of this year by US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) as the 27th annual survey for toy safety entitled Trouble in Toyland 2012 found that the child's toy Morphobot contained 180 ppm of lead which is over the federal limit.

Phthalates can cause developmental issues in children ranging from abnormal genital development in the womb along with premature delivery to early onset of puberty in girls to low sperm counts in men. The CPSIA has issued bans on toys or children's articles with a count of 1,000 ppm of phthalates contained in them. In the US PIRG's report, the Dora Backpack was found to have 320 ppm's which is below the federal standard, but is high enough that disclosures should be added to the product labeling.

Other concerns include cadmium in children's jewelry. Cadmium is a metal like lead in that high levels in the body (other than being a known carcinogen) can cause bone pain and fractures. In addition, it can lead to brain disorders like learning disabilities and kidney problems. At present, there are no strict federal standards or limits on cadmium. However, in 2010 the Center for Environmental Health filed a lawsuit against 26 retailers including The Gap and Target for selling products with high levels of cadmium. As a result, the retailers agreed to sell only products with less than 300 ppm. Wal-mart, Meijer and other chains have voluntarily pulled some items that contain cadmium, but many other stores still carry them and many pieces have already been sold to thousands of children.

Powerful magnets small enough for a child to swallow can cause serious injury to their digestive tract, possibly even death. Snake Eggs is one such child toy that the US PIRG's report mentions. It is labeled for children 4 years old and up. If these ellipsoid magnets were slightly smaller they would be banned for children under 14. In addition, the following items were mentioned for violating small parts restrictions as choking hazards: Dragster Cars sold at Toy-R-Us, Bowling Game sold at Dollar Plus Store, Ball On A Stick Launcher sold at Dollar Store, Play Food sold at Wal-Mart, Super Play Food Set sold at Toys-R-Us, Golfing Game sold at Dollar Store and Baby's 1st and 2nd Birthday Balloons sold at Dollar Plus.

Parents are encouraged to exercise caution when choosing toys for their children.

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