Toys still tainted with lead: Groups

Research groups find that toys on store shelves still contain illegal amounts of toxic substance.

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By Keisha Lamothe, staff writer

Both the U.S. PIRG and the CEH found that Curious George dolls contained high amounts of lead.
Of the 100 toys the CEH recently purchased, 9 contained illegal amounts of hazardous substances.

NEW YORK ( -- More toys tainted with extremely high levels of lead were found on the shelves at major U.S. retailers, according to an advocacy group's survey released Tuesday.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which released the "2007 Trouble in Toyland" report, highlighted hazards that included lead, dangerous small magnets, and toys that pose choking and strangulation hazards.

"While we have seen progress after more than two decades of advocacy on behalf of America's littlest consumers, U.S. PIRG's researchers still found trouble in toyland on store shelves this fall," said Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer program director at the U.S. PIRG.

Toys tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC] are banned if they contain lead at 600 parts per million - the legal lead standard. The U.S. PIRG went to different retailers and tested a number of different toys which had high amounts of lead.

Out of the toys tested, the group found that a Curious George plush toy contained five times the legal limit of lead and a zipper pull was 65 percent lead by weight - more than 1,000 times the current legal limit.

Children exposed to lead can suffer developmental problems, lowered IQ, and even death.

As the holiday season approaches, the CPSC emphasized that toy safety goes beyond the recent lead scare.

The CPSC recently announced that toy-related injuries sent nearly 73,000 children under the age of five to emergency rooms in 2005. Of the injured children, 20 died that same year.

Hazardous toys cited by the CPSC that consumers should be aware of while shopping this year included riding toys such as skateboards and inline skates, toys with small parts that can cause choking hazards, toys with small magnets, projectile toys such as air rockets and darts, and chargers and adapters that pose burn hazards.

"CPSC recalled 61 toys involving more than 25 million product units in 2007, underscoring CPSC's daily commitment to keeping consumers safe 365 days a year," said Nancy Nord, the acting CPSC chairman. "Toys today are undergoing more inspection and more intense scrutiny than ever before."

Even though the CPSC says it is working intensely to protect consumers, Mierzwinski said the group could not solve all toy safety issues alone. The U.S. PIRG is calling on Congress to pass the strongest product safety reforms to effectively ban lead in toys.

"This year we've all been shocked by millions of recalls," Mierzwinski said. "The best holiday gift Congress could give children is to pass a toy safety law [to protect them]."

"The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a little agency with a big job it simply cannot do," he said. "Congress must give it the tools it needs to do that big job better."

Another research group, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), on Tuesday unveiled a list of several new toxic toys found at major retailers such as Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500) and Target (Charts, Fortune 500).

Representatives for Wal-Mart and Target were not immediately available for comment.

The group tested 100 toys, of which 9 contained extremely high levels of lead. A Starletz small ceramic tea set purchased from the gift novelty store AlMart had a lead level of 12,600 ppm - the highest amount the group recorded.

Other toys on the list were the Dora Game Pack and Sponge Bob Bat & Ball set purchased from Target and an H2O Extreme Zone bath toy-rubber ducky from Toy Castle. The group did not specifically name manufacturers, but said that all the toys were made in China.

Similar to U.S. PIRG, the CEH found in a previous survey that a Curious George doll had more than 10 times the legal amount of lead.

"Aggressive action to protect our kids is starting to happen," Michael Green, the executive director of the CEH, said in reference to California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who yesterday filed a lawsuit against 20 companies, including Mattel Inc. (Charts, Fortune 500) and Toys "R" Us, claiming they sold toys with extremely high levels of lead.

The Oakland, Calif. group is also pushing the CPSC to do more when it comes to toy safety.

"CPSC has a chance to step up to the plate and order a national recall to protect children, but the recent past has shown that the agency is more concerned with protecting companies that make and sell poisonous products," said Charlie Pizarro, the associate director of CEH.

The CEH currently has two part-time researchers testing for lead in children's products, but the group does not have all the resources to be able to find all the lead, Green said.

Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association (TIA), was not aware of the list of hazardous toys by the CEH, but he said toy companies, including Mattel, have been extensively testing their products to make sure they do not reach store shelves if they contain high amounts of lead.

"There are hundreds of toy manufacturers - they have told me that because of what has happened, they have taken products and sent them to be retested for updates," Keithley said. "The labs are inundated with products to test."

Even though research groups are continuously finding toys on random store shelves that are tainted, the TIA is confident that any product left on the shelves are perfectly safe. To top of page

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