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Watchdogs flag toy hazards

WASHINGTON — From rubber duckies to ceramic tea sets, some toys on store shelves have high lead content, a consumer advocacy group warned Tuesday.

In a four-day investigation, the Center for Environmental Health, or CEH, found nine toys out of 100 that contained more lead than the federal legal limit. One item, a Starletz small ceramic tea set, had 21 times the legal lead limit, said the California-based group's executive director, Michael Green.

Most of the products were purchased from Target, the group said. CEH works to keep harmful chemicals out of products, often through litigation. Target did not respond to calls for comment.

The nine toys, including a Disney Princess pencil case and a SpongeBob bat and ball set, were made in China, but Green said it is the federal government's responsibility to keep tainted products off the shelves.

"It's really not about China, it's about us," he said.

Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, dismissed CEH's report, saying such organizations must follow the same testing standards as the CPSC does. "There are a number of groups that have put the same kind of information out," Vallese said. "Testing is very subjective."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released its annual toy safety report Tuesday. It warned that toys with small but dangerous magnets and high lead content could pose a risk to children.

"We've been talking about these problems for years," said Ed Mierzwinski, the group's consumer program director. "The problem is growing a little bit worse because manufacturers aren't afraid of the CPSC."

The advocacy groups' concerns come as store owners prepare for the holiday shopping season, with consumers expected to spend almost $475 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The reports also come at the end of a year filled with toy recalls, including recalls of many items made in China.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the CPSC recalled 19 toys because of high lead content, compared to three lead-related toy recalls in 2006.

In recent weeks, Congress has criticized the CPSC for not being aggressive enough in keeping contaminated products from reaching U.S. consumers. Nancy Nord, the agency's acting chairwoman, has argued that the product safety agency lacks funding for proper product testing and is short of inspectors, but also opposed some Democratic efforts to substantially boost the agency's clout.

On Sunday, a Tribune investigation reported that the problem of contaminated toys is more far-reaching than previously believed. About 800 toys and children's products from department store shelves and Internet marketplaces were tested, some containing more than 10 times the federal legal limit for lead. In all, 21 items exceeded the Illinois limit for lead, the federal standard or both.

As one of the biggest shopping days of the year nears—the day after Thanksgiving—the CPSC's Vallese said the best safety precaution parents can take is to buy only age-appropriate toys for their children. "Getting back to basics is very important," she said. "Although it's simple information, it's lifesaving information."

Source: Chicago Tribune

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Article publication date: 20 Pluviôse Ray80 (21 Nov 2007)

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