Just in time for the holidays: VPIRG issues warning about toy store perils

Children play at the Turtle Island Children's Center in Montpelier. Photo by Alicia Freese

Children play at the Turtle Island Children’s Center in Montpelier. Photo by Alicia Freese

VPIRG is urging consumers to be vigilant when shopping for toys. Three days before Black Friday, VPIRG unveiled its annual Trouble in Toyland report, highlighting a number of toys that have resulted in the strangulation, laceration, choking or poisoning of children.

Especially insidious, says Lauren Hierl, an environmental health advocate for VPIRG, are increasingly popular playthings that have powerful magnets embedded in them. Often no bigger than an un-popped kernel of corn, the magnets are quite powerful, and if ingested, they can create perforations in children’s intestines.

Hierl says the Consumer Product Safety Commission is in the process of refining its regulations for magnet toys. CPSC estimates that these magnets prompted 1,700 emergency room visits between 2009 and 2011. The report notes that these magnets are especially common in exports from China.

Hierl, who had a toddler of her own in tow at the press conference on Tuesday, held up one after another innocuous-looking toy and rattled off the liabilities of each item. She explained that a plastic “Dora the Explorer” guitar exceeds the decibel limit for toys and could cause hearing loss among children. And, Hierl add, all of these toys can be readily be found on Vermont store shelves.

According to the report, the enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in 2008 has helped weed out toxic toys before they reach shopping centers, but vested toy manufacturer interests continue to lobby against the new standards.

Many age-old offenders, such as balloons, small balls, and other objects conducive to choking, remain on the shelves.

Hierl said the Vermont Legislature has been receptive when VPIRG has raised concerns about dangerous toys in the past and “Vermont has been on the cutting edge” when it comes to implementing rigorous safety standards. (Vermont passed lead standards for toys three years before federal guidelines were put in place.)

But this session, VPIRG plans to push the Legislature to pass “comprehensive chemical reform,” which would include reducing the lead and phthalate limit for toys and introducing limits for other chemicals found in toys. Hierl says that despite the current standards, the presence of lead and phthalates in toys continues to pose health risks.

This is the 27th year the report has been released, and this latest version can be accessed through an interactive website and on smartphones.


Alicia Freese

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