Research group addresses toy safety

11/20/07 Seán Kinane
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Despite numerous toy recalls this year, hazardous toys are still sold in stores across the country, says a message in a 55-page report called Trouble in Toyland.

The 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety was released by the Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) this morning at Children’s Choice Learning Center at Tampa General Hospital.

Florida PIRG, along with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and a local pediatrician, spoke about some of the report’s findings and what consumers can do to make smart choices about children’s toys.

Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate with Florida PIRG, described some of the safety issues his group found with children’s toys.

"Well, this year we were able to find a number of different potential hazards on toy shelves despite the millions of different recalls that have happened in recent months. We found a series of toys with lead in them, small harmful magnets in children’s jewelry and building-construction kits, as well as excessively loud toys and choking hazards, which continue to be one of the leading causes of toy-related injuries.”

Ashwell said a good way to see if a toy is a choking hazard is whether it fits inside the tube from a toilet paper roll.

Neil Reinhardt is the associate medical director of Saunders Pediatric Emergency Care Center at Tampa General Hospital. He told WMNF about the two main toy-related injuries for which he has to treat children.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for inspecting toys, but Ashwell thinks that they are not doing a good enough job, in part because there are not an adequate number of toy inspectors or strong enough regulations on the industry.

“This really goes to the question of whether the CPSC can do its job effectively with the amount of funding it is receiving right now. We don’t think it can. We think it needs more funding to hire more staff, more enforcement authority. We need Congress, really to step in and beef up the CPSC. It’s a little agency trying to do a very big job and we need to make sure they have the right tools to do that. I mean they have one toy inspector fpr the entire country and 15 import inspectors around the entire border of the country. So it’s really a case of the little industry that couldn’t and we need to beef them up.”

The acting chairman of the CPSC is Nancy Nord. Last month, when the Senate was considering legislation to increase funding to her agency, Nord wrote two letters to the Senate asking them to reject legislation that would strengthen the CPSC, double its budget and increase its staff.

“I can only speculate as to what her motivations were. It boggles the mind to see the leader of an agency stand up and say that. There have been a lot of questions about her character and her ability to handle her position ethically lately.”

According to her biography on the CPSC website, Nord was previously the executive director of the American Corporate Counsel Association and was Director of Consumer Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Castor wants Nord to step down from her position.

“The director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nancy Nord, needs to resign. Not just because her agency is failing to inspect dangerous toys that are arriving on the shores of America, but because she has now admitted that she has accepted numerous industry trips and perks by the toy industry she regulates and that is outrageous.”

The attorney General of California is suing 20 companies for allowing toys with dangerous amounts of lead to reach store shelves. Castor said the "companies must be held accountable," and that Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, and all the Attorneys General across the country, should take a hard look at the situation. But, according to Castor, the Bush administration has been something of a roadblock to effective regulation.

“Under the Bush administration, they’ve taken a hands-off approach, they believe that the marketplace will regulate itself, and the bad actors will drop out. But when it comes to toys on the shelves, that’s simply not the case. I think parents and family members would be appalled to understand that we only have one inspector for the 22 million toys on the selves. This is the least they can expect of their government: to keep the toys safe.”

Castor is supporting a bill she says will make toys safer for consumers.

“I’m a co-sponsor of legislation that will increase the number of toy inspectors, bring greater accountability to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and to bad actors in the toy industry, and also outlaw trips and perks by agency heads over the industry they represent.”

Castor said that the outlook for passing the legislation is good but that President Bush might veto the bill.

“It’s going to be a fight over the values and priorities. Again, children’s health, we’re going to continue to try to cover ten million children. The President does not believe that’s a priority. Funding education: our public schools, colleges and universities. The president last week vetoed the Labor-HHS appropriations bill that includes more money for students. I don’t think that people quite understand the battle that’s going on over priorities right now.

"Meanwhile, the president wants $200 billion more dollars for the war in Iraq, and I simply don’t think we can do that until we address the priorities of the folks in this country.”

Castor recommended that instead of toys or television games, parents could purchase books from a local bookstore or a family pass to a local museum.

Florida PIRG’s Ashwell said children’s toys that are very likely to include dangerous amounts of lead include jewelry and dolls, in part because of the short-term profit philosophy popular with businesses.

“It’s not just toys PIRG is looking at. We’re looking at a number of product safety issues whether it be food, tires, toys, it’s across the board. A large part of the problem is that companies have an incentive to get products as cheaply as they can whether it’s from China or Africa or wherever they’re getting their products. To be clear, the toy safety problem is a little beyond that, where we’re finding unsafe toys that are being made in China as well as Kansas. But the majority of them are coming from China and that’s largely because the people can get the products the cheapest.”

Learn more:

Florida PIRG

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Nancy Nord

Trouble in Toyland: The 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety

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