WASHINGTON - Shoppers awaiting this week's traditional kick-off of the holiday shopping season should find plenty of safe toys for children, but consumer advocates say some dangers still lurk.
A report released Tuesday from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found just over a dozen toys on store shelves that violate federal safety standards for lead and chemicals called phthalates or could present a choking hazard to small children. The toys deemed potentially dangerous included a whirly wheel, a plastic book for babies, a wooden blocks set and a Sesame Street Oscar doll.
The organization said that their investigation found nine potentially toxic toys, meaning containing excessive levels of lead and phthalates. Popular toys included a toy Honda motorcycle by Honda and a Sanrio Hello Kitty eyeshadow/keychain combo, both of which which contained more than twice the American Academy of Pediatrics recommenced amount of lead. They are still considered safe under Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations. However, a sleep mask from Claire's contained 77 times more phthalates more than the allowed standard.
Twelve toys were considered to be a chocking hazard, including several small bouncing balls and balloons, which cause more choking deaths than any other children's product. About 40 percent of the choking fatalities reported to the government between 1990 and 2010 involved balloons.
But, some other toys on the list were surprising, including a plush Oscar the Grouch Sesame Street doll, which has a garbage can lid hat that was easily removable and small enough to swallow.
PIRG also warned about toys that are too loud and could lead to hearing damage. Potential noise hazards were found in three toys, including an Elmo's World Talking Cell Phone by Fisher-Price, which exceeded the maximum decibel level for toys meant to be held close to the ear. One toy, Hotwheels' Super Stunt Rat Bomb, even broke the rule for continuous noise from 10 inches away.
The toy industry downplayed the report and pointed to government figures showing sharp declines in national toy recalls.
"All eyes have been on toy safety for several years now," says Joan Lawrence, the Toy Industry Association's vice president for toy safety standards. "I am confident that the toys on store shelves are safe. The toy industry works year-round on this."
Government figures show a continued decline in toy recalls, with 34 in fiscal year 2011, down from 46 recalls the previous year; 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008.
Recalls related to lead were down from 19 in 2008 to just 4 this past year.
PIRG credited a 2008 law that set stronger standards for children's products, ncluding strict limits on lead, for helping to make many of the products on store shelves safer for youngsters. The law was passed in the wake of a wave of recalls of lead-tainted toys.
PIRG tested toys and other children's products from major retailers and dollar stores for its 26th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report.