PORTLAND — At the start of the toy-buying season, consumer safety groups and the federal government are reminding parents about dangers posed by some toys.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group released its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report, which outlines toy risks and calls on government regulators to enforce existing laws.

“We have made significant improvements, but as this report outlines, there are still toys on shelves that exceed standards. This is a matter of enforcing these standards,” said Chris Bell, an associate for U.S. PIRG, at a press conference Tuesday at Shunk Child Care.

The group had 260 toys and other children’s products from major retailers and dollar stores tested for toxic substances such as lead and antimony, and for the risk of choking presented by small parts. Four of the items tested violated federal safety regulations for children’s toys.

According to the report, unsafe levels of lead are still in many children’s toys, despite federal laws restricting the metal. In the last year, government regulators recalled nearly 900,000 toys and other children’s products for lead violations. The report notes that many toys also contain phthalates, a family of chemicals linked to reproductive problems.

The report said higher-than-allowed levels of lead or antimony were found in a stuffed monkey-in-a-banana toy, a baby book, plastic handcuffs and a toy gun. The toys were sold by stores including Toys “R” Us, Uncle Fun and Family Dollar.

Steve Taylor, campaign director for the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, said the government should do more to eliminate harmful chemicals from toys.

“It’s not the job of parents to become chemical engineers. It’s the job of the government,” said Taylor, whose group promotes the use of safer chemicals.

The report also warned that choking can be caused by toys such as balloons, balls and small parts in multi-piece toy sets, such as a Baby’s First Train toy and a Handy Manny construction play set.

Sasha Shunk, owner of Shunk Child Care, said she occasionally sees toys with parts small enough to choke a child.

“I am disheartened when I find a toy and purchase it only to find the toy is too small. I have to remove the components or only let the school-age children play with it,” she said.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, federal toy standards and laws limiting lead and other chemicals are paying off. On Nov. 18, the commission reported that toy recalls dropped to 44 in the latest fiscal year, from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008.

Toy-related child fatalities dropped from 24 in 2008 to 12 in 2009, though the number of toy-related emergency room visits rose to 186,000 in 2009, from 152,000 in 2005.

The agency encouraged parents to buy toys approved for their children’s ages, and to be careful with scooters, small balls, magnets, balloons, and toys with small parts.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]