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Merry and safe
Not discounting the importance of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, parents are last line of defense against dangerous toys

Date published: 12/21/2012

EVEN IF you've already bought a pile of toys for the kids, it's not too late to take a careful look at them to make sure they'll be safe playthings. Americans are buying some 3 billion toys and games a year, notes safekids.org, representing a lot of chances for something to go wrong.

Consumers--parents, in particular--need to be the watchdogs when it comes to the toys their children receive, because the Consumer Product Safety Commission can't catch every dangerous toy that hits the shelves. And who trusts that manufacturers--especially those who make cheap toys overseas--place your child's best interests above their own bottom lines?

The CPSC reports that in 2011, over a quarter million U.S. children--262,300--visited ERs with toy-related injuries. The 13 toy-related deaths last year were down from 17 in 2010.

The threats posed include everything from lead exposure to lacerations, and from choking on small parts to swallowing powerful magnets and suffering hearing damage from loud noises. Toys often come with an age range, but consumers should use their common sense in deciding whether a child is too young for a particular toy.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group issued its 27th Trouble in Toyland report, which over the years has prompted 150 toy recalls and regulatory actions. It states that an inordinately high number of injuries are reported among children 2 years old and younger.

To help watchdog agencies do their jobs, PIRG urges that manufacturers be required to supply information about the chemicals used in producing their toys. This would help consumers spot possible toxic substances. It also urges the CPSC to get specific in its "small part" definition, and on the precise levels of cadmium and lead considered to be dangerous.

Moreover, the group calls on consumers, especially parents, to be wary of potential dangers and do their own homework to learn what to flag. If parents (or others) discover a toy that might be dangerous, or has caused an injury, they should report it to the CPSC at cpsc.gov or saferproducts.gov, or call 800/638-2772.

With many comprehensive laws designed to protect children from dangerous toys already on the books, the key, child-safety advocates say, is in providing the CPSC with adequate resources to test toys and enforce the law.