Toys make naughty list

Water balls and children’s
cosmetics make unsafe toy list.
Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:14 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A public interest research group is recommending the United States ban the sale of the Yo-Yo Water Ball — a toy with the potential to strangulate those playing with it — after it caused 400 injuries last year, including 11 in Missouri.

The toy has already been banned in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and most of Europe. Consumer Reports has rated it “not acceptable.” In 2003, 11 million to 15 million of the Yo-Yo Water Balls were sold in the United States.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has highlighted dozens of toys that could be potentially unsafe for children. In the past the report has resulted in corrective actions taken by manufacturers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“For the most part, the toy manufacturers really do abide by the regulations put forth by the CPSC , but there are still violations every year. So parents need to realize that not every toy on the shelf is safe,” said Ellen Treimel of the Missouri Public Interest Research Group.

The survey lists four types of toy-hazards: choking, strangulation, excessively loud and toxic toys. A key concern of the research group is that some toys have not been labeled for the appropriate ages.

Serkan Kurt, who works at Toy Joy at the Columbia Mall, says most parents ask about the age appropriateness for the toys.

“I ask them first the kid’s age, then I show the options I have for the age limit,” Kurt said.

Rene Dodge, a grandmother of six and great-grandmother of three, said she mostly buys gift certificates now.

“I would be most concerned about the choking hazard,” said Dodge. She did pick up an interactive game called “Cariboo,” by the makers of Cranium, for her 4-year-old great-grandson. Dodge said that she likes the educational toys best.

The survey recommends that parents or toy buyers use a cardboard toilet paper roll or a choke testing tube to see if any small parts of a toy fit inside. If it fits, it can be a choking hazard for a child.

Among other standards, the American Academy for Pediatrics says that 85 decibels is the threshold for “dangerous levels of noise.” Some toys tested by the Public Interest Research Group were measured to have decibel levels of 95.

The Toy Industry of America said in a press release that “some have even misapplied to toys the guideline prescribed by Occupational Safety and Health Administration of an 85 decibel limit for prolonged exposure to sound over an eight-hour period. However, the majority of toys are just not played with in this way.”

Loud toys are a major concern for Treimel.

“You don’t necessarily realize that it can have an ongoing effect. We want the CPSC to make a regulation standard for how loud a toy should be,” Treimel said.

The research group recommends that parents not buy a toy if it sounds too loud. If parents already have a loud toy, they can put tape over the speakers to muffle the sound or simply take the batteries out.

While immediate physical dangers may be the most obvious cause of injuries, according to the research group, there are several chemical compounds called phthalates — chemicals used to soften the plastic used for toys — that are used in the United States and could be harmful to children who chew or suck on toys containing the material because the chemical can leak out at a more rapid rate.

The most common toys that contain phthalates are molding clays, like Sculpey and Fimo, that were measured in the survey. As of September, the European Union banned the use of three kinds of phthalates and heavily restricted three others in the manufacturing of toys. In the United States, phthalates are not considered toxic ingredients in toys.

“The dose makes the poison,” said Ken Giles a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “The basic finding is that there is not enough exposure to create a health risk. We studied how much pthalates comes out, we looked at mouthing behavior of children, we counted seconds and minutes that children hold things in their mouth.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has urged all makers of children’s make-up to not use the chemical Xylene, but it is not a mandatory regulation. The chemical is most often found in nail polish, like Hilary Duff’s Twinkle Toes Pedicure Set, that the research group survey listed as potentially toxic.

The survey recommended that parents look for a certified “non-toxic” label when purchasing such items.

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