By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Parents worried about toy safety after a record year of recalls can now look through a list of more than 1,200 items that a coalition of public interest groups has tested for lead and other harmful chemicals, though toy industry officials say the list may cause unnecessary alarm.
The coalition, led by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., found more than 200 items that contained unsafe levels of lead, as well as hundreds of others that had little or no lead. The results are scheduled to be released today in an online database at http://www.healthytoys.org.
"We are trying to help people make good decisions for products they might want to avoid and show them what are some products that test clean," Ecology Center campaign director Jeff Gearhart said.
Type in "Dora," and several varieties of toys appear. Click on a specific toy, and up pop product ratings based on test results for lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic and mercury. The ratings range from low- to high-risk. A primer on the hazards of each substance and a breakdown of which components were tested lets consumers evaluate the risk. Chlorine, for example, was sometimes found only in the packaging and not in the toy itself.
The highest concentrations of lead, which has been linked to behavioral problems and decreased IQ, were found in jewelry. More then 33 percent of the 504 pieces of jewelry tested contained lead at levels greater than 600 parts per million, an amount that would trigger further testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Products made of soft plastic also dominated the list of lead-laced toys. Lead is sometimes added to vinyl as a stabilizer.
The groups alerted the CPSC to violations of federal paint standards, and 26 items have been recalled since the groups gathered their samples, Gearhart said.
CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said that more lead-related recalls were expected this week and that the groups' findings will be reviewed. "We will take seriously reports and findings that come into us from state agencies and outside consumer groups," he said.
Some items the groups said contained high levels of lead included the eyeballs on a robot-shaped toothbrush holder from Colori USA, the sole of a Circo shoe, and the lining of several Tyrell Katz vinyl backpacks.
Colori spokesman Rene Pimentel said that the Concord, Calif., company would stop distributing the toothbrush holder and that it was unaware the product had lead in it because company tests had indicated otherwise.
Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for Target, which distributes the Circo shoes, said she had not had a chance to review the findings and was not able to comment.
Nicky Garretty, a director of Tyrell Katz, said that while the vinyl in the backpacks her London company makes contains lead, the products met safety standards because the lead isn't accessible. "A consumer may just see 'lead' and 'high' and be concerned, and it's unfair when . . . we've proven with our tests that it's 100 percent safe," she said.
The CPSC has said that lead in vinyl lunchboxes poses little danger to children for the same reason. Based on tests of more than 60 lunchboxes, the agency concluded that children would only absorb lead from a lunchbox if they rubbed it and then licked their hands more than 600 times a day for 15 to 30 days. However, the agency has also recommended that manufacturers look for non-toxic alternatives, Wolfson said.
Joan Lawrence, vice president of standards and government relations for the Toy Industry Association, said that while the groups used state-of-the art technology to detect lead, they were presenting "scary information to parents without context."
"They can't tell you whether a child will be exposed [to a chemical]," she said. Whether children can access lead in children's products may soon be a moot point. The House is expected to take up legislation this week that would ban lead from children's products, including metal jewelry and vinyl goods, regardless of accessibility.
The organizations involved in the testing include the Oregon Environmental Council, the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif., and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, based in Boston.