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November 27, 2012

Survey reveals toys safer than ever, but problems still exist

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

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A table full of potentially hazardous toys were on display at Safety City U.S.A. Nov. 20 during a press conference featuring Public Interest Research Group in Michigan and Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak.
Donna Bucciarelli, Safety City U.S.A. educator and Beaumont Health System trauma prevention coordinator, discusses some of the dangers of children’s toys Nov. 20 in Royal Oak. Choking hazards, magnets and chemicals — such as lead — continue to be a problem, but not as much as in the past.
 

ROYAL OAK — With the Christmas shopping season officially kicking off this past weekend, local groups are warning parents and caregivers to keep an eye on certain types of children’s toys, and even some adult gifts, that could harm children.

The Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM) and Beaumont Health System’s Safety City U.S.A. gathered together Nov. 20 to announce the findings of PIRGIM’s 27th annual “Trouble in Toyland” toy survey, which is viewable in full at www.pirgim.org.

“We’re not intending for our survey to be a look at every toy on every shelf,” said Meghan Hess, PIRGIM program advocate. “What we found was, in some cases, there were fewer cases of toxics. Toys are safer than ever, but parents and caregivers should still keep an eye out.”

Issues that adults have been cautioned on in years past, such as choking hazards and dangerous levels of both lead and noise, continue to be some of the biggest problems.

“It seems like really the recurring problems always seem to recur,” said Donna Bucciarelli, Safety City U.S.A. educator and Beaumont Health System trauma prevention coordinator. “There didn’t seem to be any specific manufacturer that came up over and over. It seemed to be very across the board.”

Bucciarelli said magnets are one problem that is often overlooked. Some are so strong that they can attract one another from opposite sides of a human finger despite nearly an inch of flesh and bone.

“This year I’ve found people really understand the dangers of magnets,” Bucciarelli said. “They’re kind of like death toys, but for adults. I think manufacturers or toy companies find ways to bring them back into the market. If an adult has one on their desk and a child swallows it, it’ll be a problem.”

Swallowed magnets can do more than block an airway, they can attract each other through the intestinal lining, perforating or eroding the tissue. Hess said more than 1,700 visits to the emergency room from 2009-11 have been magnet related.

“If you swallow a magnet, it can actually pinch the walls of intestines together,” Hess said.

Additionally, prolonged exposure to toys that make more than 85 decibels of noise can be damaging to a child’s hearing ability.

Although some of the issues may not surprise some parents, such as the dangers of toys with more than 100 parts per million of lead, there are a few new names to learn. The metal cadmium and the plastic-softening chemical phthalates have joined the party as dangers to children. Both are sometimes used in toy jewelry, which could fall victim to a child’s nervous chewing habit.

“Cadmium is primarily a metal toy, so it poses the same issues as lead,” Bucciarelli said.

Despite new and old dangers, choking hazards continues to be the primary problem.

“The choking hazard and the noise hazard, we do a sort of scientific test,” Hess said. “Effects of a choking hazard are dramatic and often fatal. If a toy fits inside of a small toilet paper roll, it’s not safe for children under 3.”

Bucciarelli said brain damage can occur after two or three minutes of choking.

“Lack of oxygen to the brain has such devastating consequences,” Bucciarelli said. “Kids can die from having something blocking their airways.”

To help assist shoppers in purchasing safe toys, the PIRGIM website toysafety.mobi and the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s www.saferproducts.gov are both readily available with more information.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.