By MARIA-PIA NEGRO, Capital News Service
Some toys on store shelves this holiday season could cause choking, have toxic components or damage children’s ears, according to the annual report of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization.
“Choking toys are still the most prominent (hazardous toys) in the market this holiday season,” said Jenny Levin, an advocate for Maryland Public Interest Research Group, at an annual press conference.
According to the group’s research, choking - on small toy parts, on small balls and on balloons - is still the leading cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. Between 1990 and 2011, more than 200 children died from choking incidents, the group reported.
The report also highlighted toys that contain magnets - such as Buckyballs, Snake Eggs and magnetic kid bracelets available at dollar stores - that can seriously injure children if they swallow multiple small magnets.
Maria Oliva-Hemker, chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University, was quoted in the report saying that ingestion of Buckyballs-type magnets has caused some children to lose parts of their bowels.
“We know of cases where you can have an entire string of these magnets hooking together in the intestines,” Oliva-Hemker said, in the report.
Some of the toys children between ages 1 and 3 can choke on may not be labeled as a choking hazard because they meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations that use a 1.25-inch test tube to determine if a child can choke. Levin suggested parents use a more stringent test.
“If the items pass through this toilet paper roll unobstructed, it does pose a risk for your child,” said Levin, while demonstrating with a toy and a toilet paper roll.
Another concern, according to the group, is chemicals used to soften and add flexibility to plastics and toys. Chemicals in toys such as lead and phthalates are especially dangerous to small children because they are more likely to put toys in their mouths.
“Many phthalates were banned because of their link to developmental disabilities, their link to infertility and obesity,” Levin said.
The toxic chemicals can also be present in children’s clothing, lunch boxes and backpacks.
The group is also concerned with noisy toys, such as toy guitars that can damage children’s ears if continuously exposed to them.
“We found a couple of toys that exceeded the levels of 80 decibels for toys that are intended to be close to the child’s ear,” Levin said.
In response to the annual report, a group representing toymakers, the Toy Industry Association, said the products listed in the report comply with the toy safety standards already in place.
“PIRG has issued another of its needlessly frightening reports,” said Joan Lawrence, the association's vice president of safety standards. “After searching high and low they found what we already knew ... toys are safe.”
For the annual report, the Public Interest Research Group - a nationwide nonprofit based in several states - purchased about 200 toys from major retailers and sent them to be tested at a laboratory to see if they follow federal regulations and pediatricians’ recommendations.
Jen Brock-Cancellieri, a Baltimore resident who attended last year’s conference, said that she relies on the annual report to know what toys could harm her 21-month-old toddler.
“It’s an essential tool for moms who want to learn. You can learn that many toys on the shelves are not safe,” Brock-Cancellieri said.
As they prepare for their holiday shopping, parents can check the research group’s website and Android phone app to find a list of potentially hazardous toys and safety tips.
More information about product safety can be found at www.saferproducts.gov.