Edward Swartz, a toy safety advocate, fired some darts from a dart gun yesterday to demonstrate what he said was one of the 10 worst toys of 1977 from a safety standpoint.
He accompained this display with a salvo of verbal darts directed at both the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and the toy industry.
Swartz, a Boston lawyer who has built a reputation as a toy watcher since publication of his 1971 book "Toys That Don't Care." said at a press conference in Silver Spring that the commission has "defaulted on its obligation" to protect children from dangerous toys and that the industry has opted for "lip service consumerism."
Despite claims of improved safety, he said, "stores and homes are filled with toys that can cause maiming, blindness, asphyxiation, burns and even death!"
Pointing to several allegedly unsafe toys he had bought during a recent shopping tour, Swartz warned parents to be cautious in buying tops this holiday season and to be skeptical of claims of safety appearing on packages.
Swartz's accusations brought later denials.
Ted Erickson, spokesman for the Toy Manufacturers of America, an industrial group, characterized the charges as "typical Swartzian over-statements - over-reaction by someone who is not a trained safety engineer but a lawyer."
He said the industry tries to make safe toys, "but beyond that it becomes the obligation of parents to purchase toys carefully and to exercise some supervision over play activity."
Sue Smirnoff, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, argued that the toy industry has made "giant steps" toward making toys safer in recent years, partly in response to critics like Swartz and government efforts. This year alone, she said, the commission has banned or recalled 26 toys and it is now working on two new regulations for toys and sharp edges.
Swartz, in town to speak at a conference on children's eye safety sponsored by the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, said that the commission lacks an "aggressive disposition toward safety" and its statements "lull parents into a false sense of security."
Swartz criticized the toy industry for adopting what he called a "weak" voluntary safety standard last year and now suggesting on packaging that certain toys are safe because they meet a "product standard." He also said manufacturers are "hiding behind" age labeling, such as "for ages 3 and up" on toys.
"That doesn't tell you what the hazard is." he said. "And how do you separate the toys in your home from the 3-year-olds, the 6-year-olds, the 8-year-olds? If a toy is hazardous, it shouldn't be sold as a toy, period."
Erickson of the Toy Manufacturers of America later defended age labeling and said, "the alternative would be to remove all toys from the toy department that might be hazardous to younger children, and I don't think the public would stand for that."
"Everyone thinks that safety is common sense." Swartz said. "It's not. You can't expect common sense when you hand a toy to a child. He's impulsive, his tendencies are unpredictable."
The toys that Swartz presented as his worst 10 of the year were:
A projectile toy that fires plastic "discs" and that he says may be hazardous to a child's eyes and fingers.
A scooter that doubles as a skate-board for ages 3 to 8 that he says is inadequately labeled.
A large doll whose clothing he says is inflammable and could be worn by a 2-year-old.
A flexible figurine whose head pops off and could, he says he eaten by small children.
Darts whose rubber tips are removable and so, he says, may be hazardous to a child's eyes.
A spring-loaded dart gun that he sayd can injure the eyes.
Tubes of chemicals that can be blown into ballons that are, according to Swartz, flammable.
Caps for cap guns that he says may injured a child's hearing.
An electric oven that he says if improperly used may causes shocks or burns.
Swartz also objected to a pair of plastic toy glasses with "eyeballs" handing from two springs because, he said, a child might place small objects like pebbles in the "eyeball" cup, and these objects could then be propelled into the eye by the spring.