Report: Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland 2002

Released by: U.S. PIRG

The 2002 Trouble in Toyland report is the 17th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) toy safety survey. PIRG uses its survey to educate parents and the general public about toy hazards. Our reports have led to more than 100 enforcement actions by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and toy manufacturers since 1986.

This report focuses on three main hazards associated with toys: choking, phthalates, and noise. We also conducted our second extensive survey of toys sold on the Internet.

Choking is the leading cause of toy deaths. Our survey found that many toys that pose choking hazards are still manufactured and sold, despite implementation of the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act (CSPA), publicity from PIRG and other groups, and intensified efforts by the CPSC and the U.S. Customs Service. This year, PIRG researchers found numerous toys that pose choking hazards, such as toys with small parts, balloons and small balls sold without choke hazard labels in bins and vending machines.

Phthalates are chemicals used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic to make it soft and pliable. Phthalates are probably human carcinogens and are known to cause chronic health problems, including liver and kidney abnormalities. As the CPSC has yet to ban phthalates in products for children under the age of five, PIRG researchers were able to find a number of soft vinyl toys containing phthalates during this year's toy survey.

PIRG also examined the risk of dangerously loud toys. Children can suffer hearing loss from repeated exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels, about the same as a noisy restaurant or heavy traffic.1 PIRG researchers found, with the help of a consumer advocate from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumers, 10 toys that produce sounds louder than 95 decibels.

Finally, PIRG conducted our second survey of online toy retailers. Our findings were similar to those of last year; virtually no online retailer posts the statutory choke hazard warnings, which are mandatory for toys sold in stores, on their Web sites. Similarly, less than half of the Web sites we surveyed included the manufacturer's age recommendation for a given toy.

Findings

· While small toys and toys with small parts continue to be sold without labels, manufacturers and retailers are generally doing a better job of labeling the bins in which these toys are sold, as required by law.

· Balloons are still manufactured and marketed in shapes and colors attractive to young children and sold in unlabeled bins.

· Toy manufacturers continue to make toys that may pose choking hazards, as they barely pass the small parts ban test designed to protect children under three.

· No online toy retailers display the CSPA statutory choke hazard warning, legally required on product packaging in stores. We found only 2 out of 45, or 4 percent, of the online retailers we surveyed use non-statutory warnings and that none display these warnings consistently. Our study also found that 32 percent of the Web sites analyzed (7/22) post toys in inappropriate age categories.

· Toy manufacturers are over-labeling toys by placing choke hazard warnings on items that do not contain small parts. We are concerned that this will diminish the meaning of the labels, making them less useful to parents.

· Too many toys do not have manufacturer information on them, making it difficult for consumers and government officials to identify and recall unsafe products.

Recommendations

To Consumers and Parents:

Be vigilant this holiday season and remember:
1) The CPSC does not test all toys.
2) Not all toys available meet CPSC regulations.
3) Toys that meet all CPSC regulations may still pose hazards, ranging from choking and hearing loss to chemical exposure.
4) Online toy retailers do not provide the same safety warnings that are legally required on the packaging of toys sold in stores.

To the CPSC:
1) Reexamine the parameters by which toys are judged for age appropriateness.
2) At a minimum, ban phthalates from toys intended for children ages three and under, as other jurisdictions have already done. Preferably, as PIRG and other groups requested in a 1998 petition, ban phthalates from toys intended for children five and under.
3) Change the small-ball rule to include small round objects and enlarge the size of the small parts test tube.
4) Ask online toy retailers to display safety warnings required on toy packaging on their Web sites and monitor compliance with this request.
5) Require manufacturers to label toys, not merely packaging, with manufacturer identification.
6) Limit the level of sound that toys can produce to 85 decibels.

To Toy Manufacturers:
1) Aim for 100 percent compliance with toy regulations.
2) Eliminate phthalates from toys intended for children under five years old, or at a minimum eliminate phthalates from toys intended for children under three, as some companies have already done. Disclose the use of phthalates and other chemicals in toys intended for older children.
3) Reexamine the parameters with which toys are judged for age appropriateness.
4) Use statutory choke hazard warnings on retail toy Web sites.
5) Put manufacturer identification on toys, not just packaging.
6) Do not make toys that produce sounds louder than 85 decibels.

To Toy Stores: 
1) Clearly label bins containing small toys, or the toys within the bins, with appropriate warnings.
2) Consider the height of bins containing toys with small parts. Make sure they are high enough that children under three cannot reach them.
3) Make sure all balloons are packaged with a CSPA warning requirement. Never place loose balloons in bins. Do not sell balloons aimed at an age-inappropriate audience.
4) Display mandatory CSPA hazard warnings on Web sites.

 

1 Miracle-Ear Children's Foundation, quoted by Karen A. Bilich, "Protect your Child's Hearing, http://www.americanbaby.com/ab/CDA/featureDetail/0,1349,1896-3,00.html?s=159, accessed 10 November 2002.

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