Beware of Toxic Toys This Holiday Season

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Friday, November 28, 2008; 12:00 AM

FRIDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Plastic fish squirt guns and plastic ponies containing the controversial compounds called phthalates.

Toy cars and toy earrings laced with lead.

Plastic pet animals that pose a choking hazard.

Consumers heading out on Black Friday should be aware that all these toys are in stores this holiday season, but that they shouldn't find their way into eager young hands, according to the annual toy safety report by the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

The report, Trouble in Toyland, concentrates this year on substances that can be toxic to children. Several of these toxins have been outlawed under a new U.S. law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, but some provisions of that law won't take effect until next year.

"We've released this report for 23 years and have identified hazards that are on store shelves," said PIRG spokeswoman Elizabeth Hitchcock.

Choking hazards have been a traditional focus of the report, Hitchcock said, adding, "Choking remains the leading cause of death related to toys."

In 2007, more than 80,000 children under 5 years old were taken to hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, and 18 died, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

But the new report also details toxic threats.

"We focused this year on toxic hazards like lead and phthalates, because the product safety bill that was passed [by Congress] in August takes action, specifically on those two chemicals. But it doesn't begin to take that action until after the first of the year," Hitchcock said.

Those chemicals are still in toys on store shelves, Hitchcock said. "So, it's buyer beware this holiday season," she said.

Phthalates, which can be found in many soft plastic toys, can cause serious problems when exposure occurs in the womb or during crucial stages of development. Problems include premature delivery, reproductive defects, early onset of puberty, and lower sperm counts, according to the report.


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