Federal regulators sought Tuesday to restore parents' confidence in toy safety, urging vigilance during the holiday shopping season with little mention of lead hazards that have prompted a record number of toy recalls.
Consumer groups countered that they had found numerous cases where toys that posed choking hazards or the danger of lead poisoning had made it improperly onto store shelves. "Consumers looking for toys still face an industry full of safety loopholes," said the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Consumer activists in California went shopping just last week and found nine toys, including the popular Dora the Explorer and Sponge Bob items, had very high levels of lead, some with 24 times the level of lead acceptable in paint, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.
Three days before the start of the busy shopping season, Nancy Nord, acting chief of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, issued safety tips in a two-page release that urged parents to "stay informed" about safety risks by reading product warning labels and signing up for direct e-mail notification of recalls at www.cpsc.gov.
Among the biggest toy hazards the commission cited:
The agency noted that the Chinese government recently agreed to help prevent lead-painted toys from reaching the United States, and the CPSC was "taking the action needed to remove violative products from the marketplace."
Consumer groups were not so sure.
In its 57-page annual survey, U.S. PIRG agreed that toys with small magnets as well as small parts that pose choking hazards create significant risks.
Between 1990 and 2005, at least 166 children choked on children's products, accounting for more than half of all toy-related deaths at a rate of about 10 deaths per year, the group said. Several times this year potentially dangerous toys were sold without the required warning labels of possible choking risks while the CPSC also has been slow to issue public warnings, U.S. PIRG said.
"We want parents to really focus on where is the risk for their child. And we do know that it's choking, inhaling small parts, that children do go on riding toys and get hit by cars," CPSC spokesperson Julie Vallese told CBS' The Early Show.
U.S. PIRG and the Center for Environmental Health, based in California, also pointed to continuing risks involving lead-tainted toys, millions of which were recalled this year. They cited weak laws that clearly ban lead only in paint.
"We want parents to understand that earlier this year when we realized that there was a violation of lead paint in the system, we did a top-to-bottom real inspection of the toys on the shelves," Vallese told The Early Show.
"And the toys that are on the shelves this year have been more heavily investigated and scrutinized than any year in the past."