ASHLAND — After 23 years of warning about dangerous toys, a consumer watchdog organization says there is still "trouble in toyland" — and the federal government isn't doing enough about it.
The Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group says 70 percent of toys are made in China. Some include small parts that can choke toddlers. Others may contain lead or other toxic substances that can cause reproductive or neurological problems later in life.
"It's still 'buyer beware' out there," said Kendal Lenton of OSPIRG during a press conference Tuesday at Southern Oregon University. Lenton said Congress has passed better toy safety laws, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not put the new rules into effect.
While Congress gave a deadline of Feb. 10, 2009 for removing such hazardous toys, Lenton said CPSC's policy has been to allow toy companies to use up present inventories before the ban takes effect.
"Congress has given the gift of safety, but CPSC has snatched it away," she said.
In past years, OSPIRG representatives have gone to stores before the holiday shopping season to identify particularly dangerous toys. This year, the organization is focusing on teaching people how to spot toys that are too small or may contain phthalates (thal-ates), a class of chemicals that make plastics soft and bendable. Phthalates are complex hydrocarbons that have been associated with endocrine disorders in laboratory animals, and some consumer groups have called on government to ban them.
OSPIRG offered several easy safety guidelines to evaluate toys for possible risk. Those that are too small to be safe for toddlers will fit easily inside an empty toilet-paper tube. Toys with phthalates usually have soft plastic that's easily bent.
Sayla Eisner-Mix of OSPIRG displayed one toy with too-tiny parts called Littlest Pet Shop. She noted that its warning label "Choking Hazard — small parts, not for children under 3 years," was printed on a dark background that made it difficult to notice.
In past years, pressure from OSPIRG and consumers has resulted in bans on a number of toys. Lenton said that more than 80,000 children were treated last year for choking on toys, and eight died.
"We need to protect America's littlest consumers," she said.
The OSPIRG report noted that 45 million toys were recalled in 2007, and "continued recalls in 2008 reminded Americans that no government agency tests toys before they are put on shelves."
Another consumer protection group, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, found lead, a potentially deadly neurotoxin, accounted for as much as 45 percent by weight of some children's jewelry.
USPIRG is seeking public support in state and federal laws that would require chemical manufacturers to prove chemicals safe before putting them on the market. The organization also seeks to eliminate use of dangerous chemicals and supports a campaign to inform consumers about dangerous chemicals.
Shoppers can report unsafe toys to CPSC at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.