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Research Group Cites Toy Hazards

November 22, 2000|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With parents poised to begin snapping up Christmas toys, a public interest research group warned Tuesday that many playthings--from scooters to tiny toy animals--can be hazardous to children.

While items such as balloons and puzzles with small pieces may look harmless, they can cause serious injury or death in the hands of small children, who may choke on them, the California Public Interest Research Group warned.

"Last year, at least nine children choked to death on toys," said spokeswoman Jessica Nusbaum, who displayed a sampling of potentially hazardous toys.

CalPIRG said its 15th annual survey revealed that toy-related injuries prompted 152,600 emergency room visits last year. It also warned that some toys are marketed for children who are too young to use them safely, such as balloons decorated with cartoon characters or the words "Baby's First Birthday."

Parents should exercise heightened caution when shopping on the Internet, the group said, because it is harder to determine whether items are safe, partly because manufacturers warnings aren't obvious from a computer screen. Furthermore, because of lax regulations, recalled toys can wind up being sold on the Internet, the group said.

"Anybody can go start a Web site," she said.

CalPIRG is one of a number of groups that puts out lists around the holidays, warning parents about unsafe toys. Those lists have proved useful for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, which this year has recalled 29 types of toys, or 41 million items, spokesman Russ Rader said.

Overall, however, toys are becoming increasingly safe due partly to stringent safety standards in the United States, he said.

"Most manufacturers do an excellent job of adhering to those standards," he said. "In fact, it is increasingly difficult for us to find hazardous toys."

Recalled toys that remain in toy boxes at home pose the biggest danger to youngsters, Rader said.

"Before people bring new products into their homes for the holidays, they should go through our list of recalled toys and make sure they don't have recalled toys lurking in their homes," he said. To review the recalled toys list, visit the agency's Web site at http://www.cpsc.gov.

But CalPIRG said plenty of potentially unsafe toys remain on store shelves. The items the group displayed Tuesday morning at Children's Hospital of Orange County had been selected from stores throughout the county.

Scooters have created a "large health hazard," because children sometimes use them recklessly, Nusbaum said. There have been 26,000 scooter-related injuries in the last 10 months, she said.

Parents should be sure that children are outfitted with helmets and padding, the group said.

While agreeing with such safety measures, a spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America called CalPIRG's methods "alarmist."

"The extent that toy manufacturers go to for toy safety is limitless," Terri Bartlett said.

Bartlett agreed with CalPIRG's recommendation that parents use the toilet paper roll to measure a toy's diameter to determine whether a toy is too small for use by very young children. Toys that can fit through the tube should not be used at all by children 3 and younger, CalPIRG said.

For more information, consumers can visit the Web site of CalPIRG--http://www.toysafety.net--and the toy manufacturers' group--http://www.toy-tma.org.

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