Toy Recalls Drop 46 Percent

Consumer advocates credited stores such as Wal-Mart for cutting recalls.
Consumer advocates credited stores such as Wal-Mart for cutting recalls. (By Ric Francis -- Associated Press)
By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008

Toy recalls are down 46 percent from last year, when manufacturers and retailers were forced to clear shelves of toys containing lead paint, dangerous magnets and in one case, a chemical that left children temporarily comatose.

But federal safety regulators said yesterday that parents should still be on the lookout for toys with small parts that could pose a choking hazard for children, including uninflated or broken balloons. They should also supervise children around scooters, ride-on toys, and battery chargers and adapters that come with electronic toys.

While naming those items as the top toy hazards, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said the number of toy recalls had dropped to 74 in 2008 from 138 in 2007.

At CPSC's annual toy safety news conference yesterday in a Georgetown shopping mall, acting Chairwoman Nancy Nord attributed the drop in recalls to increased surveillance by the agency, including stepped up inspections at nine ports, stronger voluntary safety standards and efforts by toy manufacturers to keep dangerous toys from reaching the market.

"Toys now on sale . . . have gone through the most intensive safety process to date," Nord said. "We are looking harder for violations and finding less violations."

Recalls of toys containing lead, for example, declined to 45 so far this year from 97 in 2007. Last summer, lead paint on beloved toys such as Elmo and Dora the Explorer triggered a series of recalls and sparked outrage among consumers.

Consumer advocates were more critical of the CPSC and credited retailers such as Toys R Us and Wal-Mart for driving down the recall rate. Earlier this year, both chains strengthened safety requirements for their suppliers. "That has helped more than any vigilance by the CPSC," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG in Washington.

This is the last holiday shopping season before tough new safety standards for toys take effect in February. The new requirements, which include mandatory testing and certification by independent labs, are part of a landmark product safety law enacted in August. Most toys for sale now were made and ordered months earlier.

Until the new standards take effect, declaring toys safer than ever is a bit premature, said Rachel Weintraub of Consumer Federation of America. "While some responsible retailers have taken a pro-active step to truly implement higher standards for their products not everyone has, so consumers still have to beware and can't assume a product is safe."

Consumer advocates have been concerned that manufacturers and retailers may rush to unload inventory that doesn't comply with the new standards, either by selling it off in the United States or exporting it to countries with weaker safety standards. So far, there has been no evidence of such dumping, Mierzwinski said. And most large manufacturers have already begun following the new standards, said Julie Livingston, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, a trade group in New York City.

Because of the economy, consumers may turn to thrift stores, online auctions and sites such as Craigslist for bargains. Nord advised buyers to check the CPSC Web site to determine whether a product has been recalled. She cautioned sellers to do the same. The new law makes it illegal to sell or export a recalled product.

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