Some of the hottest toys on the market, from snuggly slumber bags to green creatures that vomit, pose potential, even life-threatening, hazards to children, and neither the toy manufacturers nor the government is issuing enough warnings about the toys, a leading consumer watchdog group said yesterday.
Ann Brown, chairwoman of the Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action, said the greatest danger on toy store shelves found during the committee's 16th yearly survey of toy quality and safety is slumber bags that can go up in flames.
The committee bought and tested three brands of children's sleeping bags: Walt Disney's Mickey Snug-Ums, the Coke Slumber Bag and the Pillow People sleeping bag. Brown said she knew of no incidents in which a child was burned while using a sleeping bag, but that the potential for such an occurrence was great.
"Children sleep with them. They nap with them. They use them as their friends and suckie blankets," Brown said at a news conference in the atrium of the Children's Hospital National Medical Center. To demonstrate her point, Brown set set a Mickey Snug-Ums sleeping bag on fire.
Flammable sleeping bags should be withdrawn from the market, Brown said, and standards for their flammability should be established.
Bill Dispirito, head of Amy Lynn, the Fall River, Mass., maker of the Coke Slumber Bag, said that federal regulations do not require that the slumber bags be flame retardant. "We do put a warning on the slumber bag and it states that the fabric and insulation materials can burn," he said.
There are no federal regulations for toy flammability, said Jim Hoebel, manager of the fire hazards program of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
"It comes down to a question of the degree of risk associated with a product . . . . We tend to target those with the greatest risk," Hoebel said.
The committee's analysis of toys on the market this holiday season was based on the level of danger involved with the toy, the quality of its construction, the truth of its advertising, how long it would hold a child's attention, to what degree it would frustrate a child and whether the toy was messy or unsanitary.
Along with the usual array of dolls, play kitchens and guns, the committee found that ghoulish toys are being heavily marketed this year.
"The grosser it is the better they like it," said Charlye Mallory, a chairman of the committee's toy group. The ADA is the country's largest liberal lobbying organization.
Slime Balls, for instance, are green creatures with an eyeball rolling down each face. The toy's head is to be filled with a slimy green goo that comes out of its mouth when a child squeezes it. The toy is hazardous, the committee found, because a warning that the goo is not to be ingested is on a throw-away label.
The committee also found several toys that present a choking hazard, such as a take-apart bathtub toy called the Fun Sponge, and toys that have sharp edges or points that could puncture a child's skin, such as Mr. Spudhead, a set of potato decorators that are plastic.
Brown said the committee easily found hazardous toys in part because the federal government is not being diligent enough about toy safety.
But Elaine Tyrrell, project manager of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Children's and Recreational Products Program, said that commission had recalled 97 toys in the last 12 months and issued warnings about others, including lawn darts, which have been blamed for the deaths of several children.
The agency routinely conducts its own toy safety tests based on the results of the yearly ADA report, Tyrrell said.