Toy Tests Find Lead, Other Toxins

Even with revised laws banning certain chemicals and lowering lead limits in toys, a public interest group has found that some toys being sold at popular retailers violate current mandates. A significant issue given that we are in the midst of the heaviest shopping season of the year.

The Washington Post said that the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released its report—“Trouble in Toyland”—in which it states that although many stores and toy makers are in compliance with the laws, some are not. This is problematic because it is virtually impossible for consumers to determine which toys are and are not safe.

Both lead and phthalates were issues with toys cited in the U.S. PIRG report. Phthalates, chemicals that make plastics and vinyls more flexible, have been linked to many adverse health events. So much so, that stringent phthalate levels have been imposed as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Lead levels were also reduced under the Act.

Exposure to lead in children can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems. Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm. Once poisoned by lead, no organ system is immune. Of particular concern is the developing brain because negative influences can have long-lasting effects and can continue well into puberty and beyond.

“We have seen substantial progress over the last year because of the new law and new leadership at the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” said Elizabeth Hitchcock, public health advocate at U.S. PIRG. “At the same time, we are seeing some products that slip through the cracks.” U.S. PIRG has been releasing the toy safety report each year at the beginning of the holiday season for 24 years, said the Washington Post.

This report is the first since the revised consumer safety laws were enacted last year, said the Washington Post. The laws were implemented, in part, due to very high levels of lead found in many toys imported into this country from China. The Washington Post also pointed out that not only did Congress vote to reduce lead levels in toys, it also voted to ban phthalates from children’s products.

U.S. PIRG sent 15 children’s products for testing at an independent laboratory, which found four contained excessive lead levels, and two contained phthalates, said the Washington Post. A Claire’s boutiques charm was found to be 71 percent lead by weight; the legal limit is .03 percent, said the Washington Post. “Big Rex and Friends,” a book bought at Toys R Us, tested at 0.19 percent lead, reported the Washington Post, which noted that Toys R Us stopped selling the book when it learned of the results, but the book can be purchased elsewhere.

A Pretty Princess Puppy Purse, also from Claire’s boutiques, tested with 5.4 percent phthalates, and Elmo lunch bag made by Fast Forward New York had a level of 7.2 percent of another phthalate, said the Washington Post. In both cases, the phthalates involved are banned under the Act.

According to Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy recalls dropped to 38, to date, in 2009, from 162 in 2008; children’s product recalls over excessive lead levels dropped from 85 to 15 in the same time frame, according to the Washington Post.

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