Holiday toy safety: hidden dangers in popular toys

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- As the holidays loom before us, there are warnings out about the dangers of some popular toys. Doctors say one child is hurt every three minutes, thanks to dangerous toys.

Doctors at Phoenix Children's Hospital held a news conference Monday, outlining some of the risks that can exist in seemingly innocent toys.

One of the most dangerous toys? The scooter. "Probably the number one injury that a kid can sustain is from a scooter," says Dr. Kathleen Graziano from PCH. "We all love scooters. My kids have scooters; my kids have scooters. My kids are 6, 11 and 13, and we have scooters, but they have to wear a helmet."

Parents can go online for more information about toy safety. One agency in particular lists many of the risks.

For almost 30 years, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to an estimated 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and well being of children.

Among the toys surveyed this year, they found numerous choking hazards, and five toys with concentrations of toxins exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014,  the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

"They can still play with the toy; they can still play with Barbie. But don't give them Barbie's choker necklace or Barbie's tiara because they will swallow it," says Graziano.

Standards for toy safety are enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Safety standards include limits on toxins in children’s products, size requirements for toys for small children, warning labels about choking hazards, measures to keep magnets and batteries inaccessible, and noise limits.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff examined hundreds of toys to confirm that they are safe. The agency discovered that many  unsafe toys remain widely available. The problems found include:

-Lead. Childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can undermine development, damaging academic achievement and attentiveness. They found unsafe levels of lead in one set of play sheriff and police badges.

-Chromium. Skin contact with chromium can cause severe allergic reactions including skin redness, swelling and ulcers. Chromium compounds are also known to cause cancer. This year, lab tests revealed that a tambourine marketed to children ages two and older contained chromium at nearly 10 times the legal limit.

-Phthalates. Exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development may harm development of the male reproductive system and is linked to early puberty. Lab tests confirmed that several items purchased contained high levels of banned phthalates. Those items include a rubber duck, plastic-covered hair clips, and a Dora the Explorer backpack.

-Small parts are pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age three, can choke on small parts. The agency's shoppers purchased a set of foam blocks marketed to children two and up that contained multiple small parts that fit into a choke test cylinder. They also identified multiple toys containing near-small parts, which are pieces that almost fit into the choke tube and can be a choking hazard.

-Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choke hazard for children three years old and younger. The agency found small balls that were not labeled with the appropriate choke hazard warning. There is also a about other small, rounded toys, such as toy food, that present the same choke hazard as small balls but are not labeled as a hazard.

-Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. As in past years, many balloons found on store shelves are marketed to children under eight.

-Magnets. When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, they can have fatal health consequences as their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, perforating intestinal walls. The agency's shoppers purchased small, high-powered magnets, despite their being recalled by the CPSC.

-Batteries. When batteries are ingested, chemical reactions can burn through the esophagus and blood vessels, causing fatal internal bleeding. The agency's shoppers purchased a toy whale that contains batteries that are accessible to small children and are nearly small enough to constitute a choke hazard. The toy has been recalled in Australia because small children can easily remove the batteries.

-Excessive noise. Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children: Hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development. This year, the agency's shoppers found toys that are loud, though not necessarily in violation of federal limits.

You can find a complete list of dangerous toys and safety tips online.