WASHINGTON — Shoppers awaiting this week's traditional kick-off of the holiday shopping season should find plenty of safe toys for children, but consumer advocates say some dangers still lurk.
A report released Tuesday from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found over a dozen toys on store shelves that violate federal safety standards for lead and chemicals called phthalates or could present a choking hazard to small children.
The toys deemed potentially dangerous included a whirly wheel, a plastic book for babies, a wooden blocks set and a Sesame Street Oscar doll. The whirly wheel toy and the book had high levels of lead; the blocks set had some pieces that were too small for children under 3 and the Oscar doll had a hat that can come off easily and present a choking hazard to little children, the report said.
PIRG also warned about toys that are too loud and could lead to hearing damage as well as balloons, which cause more choking deaths than any other children's product. About 40 percent of the choking fatalities reported to the government between 1990 and 2010 involved balloons.
Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at PIRG, says industrial chemicals and toxins in toys were among the biggest problems the group found this year. Lead can cause irreversible brain damage, and some studies have linked phthalates to reproductive problems.
The toy industry downplayed the report and pointed to government figures showing sharp declines in national toy recalls.
"All eyes have been on toy safety for several years now," says Joan Lawrence, the Toy Industry Association's vice president for toy safety standards. "I am confident that the toys on store shelves are safe. The toy industry works year-round on this."
Government figures show a continued decline in toy recalls, with 34 in fiscal year 2011 — down from 46 recalls the previous year; 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008. Recalls related to lead were down from 19 in 2008 to four recalls this past year.
PIRG credited a 2008 law that set stronger standards for children's products, including strict limits on lead, for helping to make many of the products on store shelves safer for youngsters. The law was passed in the wake of a wave of recalls of lead-tainted toys.
PIRG reviewed about 200 toys and other children's products from major retailers and dollar stores for its 26th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report.