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FOR RELEASE: November 20, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Health Officials Warn of Toy Hazards Listed in Consumer Report

The annual State Public Interest Research Group (State PIRG) report, Trouble in Toyland, highlights potential hazards of toys found during a survey of stores in October and November. PIRG cautioned consumers about toy hazards in five categories: choking hazards including balloons, toxic chemicals, hearing loss hazards, scooter dangers, and purchasing toys on the Internet, according to the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition. SAFE KIDS, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, is partnering with PIRG this year to increase public awareness about some of the most common toy hazards.

PIRG also identified toys that do not have manufacturer information, which makes it difficult for consumers and government officials to identify and recall unsafe toys. Hazards posed by toys can still be found on store shelves across the country despite passage of the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act. The annual PIRG report, on the web at www.toysafety.net, has resulted in more than 100 recalls and other enforcement actions in the last 15 years.

While the group's 16th annual survey noted some signs of improvement, in 2000 alone, an estimated 191,000 people went to the emergency room for toy-related injuries. Seventy-nine percent (150,800) were younger than 15 years old.

Choking on small toy parts, balloons and small balls continues to be the leading cause of toy-related deaths. According to new data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 207 children died from 1990 to 2000 playing with toys. In 2000, 17 children died playing with toys, six of those from choking.

Federal regulations ban any toy that poses a choking hazard because of small parts if it has "play value" for children under 3. The group also warned of the heightened choking hazards associated with small balls. Small balls (from a diameter of 1.25 inches to 1.75 inches) are banned for sale for children under 3. "Tragically, children choke to death on toys and balls that are small enough to be put in the mouth and block the airway," added Martha Collar, SAFE KIDS coordinator.

Fifty-seven children have choked to death on parts of balloons since 1990. The report says balloons are a leading cause of choking and are inappropriate for toddlers. Also, consumers should avoid latex balloons for children under age 8.

The group warned consumers of toys containing toxic chemicals known as phthalates that are added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic toys as a softener. The chemicals are linked to liver and kidney damage, are probable human carcinogens, and have already been banned by several European countries in toys for children under age 3.

PIRG identified a number of toys that pose hearing loss dangers to children. According to a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss. No federal regulations regulate the noise level of toys, but toys with sounds of 85 decibels or over can significantly affect a child's hearing.

PIRG also offered tips to consumers about the use of scooters. Between January 2001 and July 2001, the popular scooters were responsible for 68,530 injuries serious enough to require emergency room treatment. About 85% of the injuries were to children under age 15, with the most common injuries being fractures. CPSC has reports of 11 deaths relating to non-powered scooters so far in 2001.

PIRG recommended the following tips for avoiding scooter injuries: Scooter users should wear proper safety gear including a helmet that meets CPSC's standard, and knee and elbow pads as well as wrist guards, ride scooters only on smooth, paved surfaces without any traffic, and do not ride scooters at night.

Online toy sales grew 22 percent in 2000--from $650 million in 1999 to $793 million. The group urged consumers to be cautious about buying toys on-line. In an analysis of 44 online toy retailers, PIRG found that not one online retailer posts the CPSC statutory warnings and only three included any safety labeling, and even these are not posted consistently.

"Shoppers should examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before they make a purchase and should think about how a child actually plays with toys," Collar said. "While most manufacturers comply with the law, parents should not assume that all toys on store shelves are safe or adequately labeled," she continued. "Consumers should get tips for toy safety on www.toysafety.net before they buy toys this season."


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