Bill Sartain sells toys in his Foothill Village store, Tutoring Toys, and he says customers have come in with concerns about safety in the past several months, as manufacturers have recalled millions of popular toys.
Those worries resurfaced Tuesday when federal regulators urged shoppers to be vigilant and highlighted a broad array of hazards, including the lead-based paint that forced the manufacturers' recalls. The regulators urged parents to read warning labels, follow safety guidelines and monitor toy recalls.
Consumer groups also warned that they found numerous cases where toys that posed a choking hazard or lead danger had improperly made it to store shelves. "Consumers looking for toys still face an industry full of safety loopholes," said the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
Three days before the start of the busy shopping season, Nancy Nord, acting chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, issued safety tips in a two-page release that called on parents to "stay informed" by reading product warning labels and signing up for direct e-mail notification of recalls at www.cpsc.gov.
Sartain echoed those warnings, and said that as a retailer, he tries to go well beyond the measures most parents would take to ensure safety. If that means pulling a toy, he will, although the only recalls from his store were Thomas the Tank Engine sets, which contained lead paint, and Aquadots, a toy-tainted with a date-rape drug. But he has plenty of safe options to offer, such as wooden train sets and European or American made stuffed animals.
"We have a lot of questions and a lot of people intentionally not buying Chinese toys," he said.
A majority of his toys 60 percent are manufactured outside of China, whose manufacturers have been blamed for the lead paint and product recalls. But the Chinese-made toys that he does sell are generally manufactured for European and American companies that have good reputations, he said.
"The companies we do business with that manufacture toys in China are smaller, and they have people on-site," Sartain said.
Ashley Holbrook, a Salt Lake mother, said that she shops at small stores like Tutoring Toys because she trusts them to be more wary of safety concerns than national chains.
"I trust them to go through the toys and don't think they would sell anything dangerous," she said.
The news release from the CPSC highlighted a broad array of potential toy safety hazards. Among the biggest toy hazards cited were:
• Riding toys, skateboards and inline skates that could cause dangerous falls for children.
• Toys with small parts that can cause choking hazards, particularly for children under age 3.
• Toys with small magnets, particularly for children under age 6, that can cause serious injury or death if the magnets are swallowed.
• Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and sling slots for older children that can cause eye injuries.
• Chargers and adapters that can pose burn hazards to children.
"Toys today are undergoing more inspection and more intense scrutiny than every before," Nord said in a statement, citing CPSC's "daily commitment to keeping consumers safe 365 days a year."
The agency noted that the Chinese government recently had signed agreements to help prevent lead-painted toys from reaching the United States, and that the CPSC was "taking the action needed to remove violative products from the marketplace."
Consumer groups weren't so sure and warned that hazardous toys are still finding their way to U.S. stores.
In its 57-page annual survey, U.S. PIRG agreed that toys with small magnets as well as small parts that pose choking hazards create significant risks.
Between 1990 and 2005, at least 166 children choked to death on children's products, accounting for more than half of all toy-related deaths at a rate of about 10 deaths per year, the group said. Several times this year, potentially dangerous toys were sold without the required warning labels of possible choking risks, while the CPSC also has been slow to issue public warnings, U.S. PIRG said.
U.S. PIRG and Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health also pointed to continuing risks involving lead-tainted toys, millions of which were recalled this year. They cited weak laws that only clearly ban lead in paint.
In a four-day investigation of toys it purchased at stores such as Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and The Disney Store, the Center for Environmental Health found that nine out of the 100 toys it purchased had high lead levels of 900 parts per million or more.
Another six toys had levels higher than 100 parts per million, the approximate trace level that some consumer groups would like to see as the limit whether in paint, coatings or any toys, jewelry or other products used by children under 12.
"The toy companies and their retailers and the government aren't doing enough to protect kids from these toys," said Charles Margulis, CEH's spokesman. "They had massive recalls this summer and keep telling us how much they're doing.
"Yet we're still finding these toys with high levels," he said. "Why is it we are the ones that are getting this information out to parents and not the government and not the toy companies?"
The findings come as both the House and Senate consider legislation that would overhaul the product safety system by substantially increasing CPSC's budget, raising the cap on civil penalties for violations and giving the CPSC authority to provide quicker notice to the public of potentially dangerous products.
The measures also seek to ban officials at federal regulating agencies from taking trips financed by industries they oversee. Both Nord and her predecessor as chairman, Hal Stratton, accepted free trips worth thousands of dollars at industry expense.On Monday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown sued 20 companies in state court, including Mattel Inc. and Toys "R" Us, claiming they sold toys containing "unlawful quantities of lead." The move follows major recalls of toys, lunch boxes, children's jewelry and other goods during the last year by CPSC.