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WashPIRG releases 'Trouble in Toyland' annual report

Jill Hardy of WashPIRG shows one of the toys the public interest group has targeted as unsafe for young children.
Photo by Anne Schefter/Woodinville Weekly.

unsafe toys by Anne Schefter
No one likes to think about a child dying from playing with a toy, yet holiday shoppers need to be aware that such tragic deaths do occur each year.
   "It's amazing how many dangerous toys are still out there," said Jill Hardy, Washington Public Interest Group (WashPIRG) spokesperson.
   Speaking at Abundant Life Childcare Center in Redmond on Nov. 21, Hardy presented WashPIRG's ninth annual report, "Trouble in Toyland."
   "Toy safety is a very important issue, especially around the holidays," Hardy said. "People are taking a lot of unnecessary risks with their children's safety by purchasing unsafe toys."
   Hardy said at least 31 children have died since January 1994 playing with toys. Many of these choked on balloons and small toys, she said.
   The leading cause of toy-related deaths is choking on balloons, marbles, small balls and parts, Hardy said.
   The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that choking on such items kills about 15 children and seriously injures 2,700 others every year.
   According to the WashPIRG report, balloons are the leading toy killer. Since January 1994, 11 children have choked to death on balloons, the survey said.
   "Balloons are totally inappropriate for younger children, Hardy stated. "Children seven months to five years old have choked on whole balloons or pieces of them." She urged parents to avoid balloons for any child under age eight.
   New choke hazard warnings on balloons and other small toys, required by the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act (CSPA) that went into effect January 1995, will help prevent future deaths, said Hardy. However, many manufacturers place warnings in inconspicuous places on the packages, she added.
   Warnings should be large, bold and noticeable, Hardy said. "Companies should be doing a better job protecting our children."
   With the passage of CSPA, toy balls and round objects with a diameter of less than 1.75 inches have been banned for sale for children under three. Hardy said at least five children have choked to death on small balls since January 1994. She warned that toy balls even larger in diameter can be lodged in a child's throat and obstruct the airway, causing choking.
   For example, Hardy pointed out, toy boulders in the "Big Buddy" five-peice vehicle play set exceed 1.75 inches in diameter, but still pose a choking hazard since they are able to obstruct the airway.
   To check for choking hazards, Hardy urged parents to obtain a "no-choke testing tube," sold at better toy stores (or use a toilet paper roll). If a toy fits into the tube (or roll) without compressing it, the item should be kept away from youngsters under three, or those still putting toys in their mouths.
   WashPIRG identified 18 dangerous toys in its report, with seven violating the CPSC choke test standard, Hardy noted.
   The first 15 unsafe toys on the list represent choking hazards. They include:
    1. Press 'n' Go Construction Truck, from China: The wheel friction pieces and rod between the ladder and drive assembly are small parts.
   2. Brio Train #33416, from Sweden: small parts.
   3. Choo Choo Train Set, Gordy Toy, from Hong Kong: The wheels snap off and are small parts.
   4. Super Animation vehicles, from Korea: The wheels break off and are small parts.
   5. Piano Phone, from China: The antenna is a separate small piece.
   6. Corrole Doll, from France: Its shoes are small parts.
   7. Dinosaur eraser to fit on pencils, from Sanrio, CA: small part.
   8. Big Buddy Five-Piece Dump Truck: small ball.
   9. Puppet Beads, #2047, from EDDU Toy, Thailand: small ball.
   10. Old version of "Little People," Drive-In Movie, #2454, Fisher-Price, NY: small parts.
   11."Farm" and "Circus" sets, from Fun and Learn: small parts.
   12. Beginners Bible Noah's Ark Play Set, from Happiness Express Club, NY: The rabbits are small parts.
   13. Kangaroo Hop, from Imaginarium: The plastic plug comes out of the handle and is a small part.
   14. Barney Balloons, #14385.
   15. Little Balloony Faces, from Estes Balloon Impressions.
   The remaining toys on the list present hazards other than choking:
   16. Elmo Express, #9361, Tyco Preschool, NY: A child's hair could get caught in the wheels.
   17. Children's nail polish, from Sanrio, CA: It contains toluene and other hazardous toxics. Toluene is classified by the EPA as a known mutagen, cause of birth defects, and cause of liver, kidney, brain, and blood marrow damage, the report stated.
   18. Sky Dancers, from Galoob, CA: Its wings pose a projectile hazard to eyes.
   Hardy warned that Wash-PIRG's list represents a sampling of toys and is not all-inclusive. And she urged shoppers not to assume a toy is safe or properly labeled just because it's on the store shelves this year. "There are toys out there that have been banned but are still being sold," she said.
   In addition, not all toys are tested for safety by the CPSC, and many toys on the shelves possess obsolete labels printed before the new warning label requirements, the survey said.
   Hardy noted that although Fisher-Price increased the size of its "Little People" in 1991, the smaller, older version is yet available for sale in some areas. At least six children choked to death on the earlier version.
   Hardy encouraged parents to shop around. "Ask good questions. If you notice small parts and don't see a bold choking hazard warning, don't buy the toy," she said.
   Besides checking for choking hazards, other tips for parents include:

    Hardy concluded that all is not doom and gloom in the toy industry. "There's been much improvement in toy safety over previous years," she said. "But be careful out there."
   For more information, call WashPIRG at 523-8985. For the full report, write to: U.S. PIRG, 218D St. SE, Washington, DC 20003; include $10. To report a toy hazard, call the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772.