NJPIRG: Toys need to be less toxic, less noisy, and better labeled

TRENTON – New Jersey Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual toy safety report found that while several improvements have been made to improve toy safety, there are still too many found on store shelves that pose choking hazards, are too loud for young children, and contain toxic chemicals.

“We have to protect our youngest consumers from unsafe toys,” said Peter Skopec, a program associate at NJPIRG. “We have to look out for common toy safety hazards.”

In the nearly three decades the annual report has come out, there have been some 150 recalls of various toys.

Balloons remains one of the biggest threats as there have been 50 reported choking cases on balloons between 2005 and 2010, officials said.

The report is titled, “Trouble in Toyland.” Among the toys identified as safety hazards this year are:

*”CAT Honk and Rumble (Steering) Wheel,”  for having a higher decibel level than the federal guideline of 85 decibels;

*A Dora the Explorer backpack: for containing dangerous chemicals known as phthalates. Exposure to such chemicals, as well as lead, could impair motor skills, stunt growth, and cause learning disabilities;

*Dora Tunes Guitar was also found to be too loud, at 93 decibels.

*Toy sets, such as “Super Play Food Set,” featuring small food pieces. They can pose a choking hazard. While the two food piece toy sets states the toys are for children ages 3 and up, the toys should have more prominent labeling saying they can be choking hazards.

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission uses a small, 1.25 inch-diameter plastic cylinder to measure toys and their potential for choking hazards, Skopec recommended a more precise measure would be to use an empty toilet paper roll, which is about a half-inch wider. Anything that goes through it would be considered a choking hazard for children under age 3.

Magnetic toys, such as Snake Eggs that are commonly found at dollar stores, also pose a health threat. Between 2009-11, there have been 17,000 emergency room cases involving ingestion of magnets, mostly between children ages 4 and 12.

Another study, by the National Institute on Deafness, found that one in five children in this country will suffer from some kind of hearing loss by age 12, as a result of being exposed to noisy toys. Also, prolonged exposure to objects of 65 decibels or higher could lead to hearing loss.  

Health Department Commissioner Mary O’ Dowd said although the report’s findings may feel “a little Scrooge-like,” she recommended parents read the labels of all toys and avoid buying toys that aren’t age-appropriate.

If a toy has volume range, select one with the lowest setting, she said.

“The child will enjoy the toy either way,” she said.

Mary Jo Abbondanza,  a registered nurse at St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, said there’s always an increase following Christmas in the numbers of children who come to the emergency room, largely because of choking. She said doctors and nurses are prepared each season for such emergencies.

Skopec said there are many more hazards that need to be addressed. For now, he called for revising small parts standards for toys that pose choking hazards, regulation of magnetic toys, and overhauling the toxic chemicals policy that, he said, is under-regulated.

“It shouldn’t be a partisan or political issue,” he said.  

NJPIRG: Toys need to be less toxic, less noisy, and better labeled