MONTPELIER>> Despite regulatory advances, some toys still pose hazards to small children.
That's the message the Vermont Public Interest Research Group delivered Tuesday afternoon at a press event at the playground of Montpelier's Union Elementary School.
The organization's representatives said they're focused at the moment on advancing provisions in the state's 2014 Toxic-Free Families Act, but sought to call attention as well to choking hazards, potential allergic reactions and loud noises caused by certain toys.
"Don't trust that they're safe just because they're on store shelves," VPIRG's Consumer and Environmental Advocate Falko Schilling told a handful of reporters at Tuesday's event.
Schilling stood beside a table bearing potentially hazardous toys, such as a Slinky-type object that contained elevated levels of the allergen and skin irritant chromium, a fairy wand with small parts that could obstruct a child's airway, and a toy car that emitted loud noises.
This is the 30th year Schilling's organization has released its "Trouble in Toyland" report, an annual survey of toy safety, and he said the effort has brought results.
Download the full Trouble in Toyland report here www.vpirg.org/Toyland15.
"I think this is something that's been really helpful over the last 30 years," he said. "There have been over 150 regulatory actions over the last 30 years because of these reports."
Hazardous toys remain on retailers' shelves, however, Schilling said.
One Vermont mom said she avoids purchasing plastic toys for her children, to guard them against ingesting the industrial chemical BPA. The molecule has been shown to mimic certain hormones in the human body, and is suspected to pose health risks as a result.
"Personally, I pay attention to plastic toys that might have BPA in them, because babies put toys in their mouths a lot," said mother Juliana Marton. "I gravitate toward wood toys."
Wooden toys are actually becoming harder to acquire as a result of regulations and liability concerns, said Montpelier toy store owner Karen Williams.
"Your regular guy who's sanding down some maple to make little cars, I can't sell them at the store, because it hasn't had testing done," Williams, the proprietor of Woodbury Mountain Toys, said.
Williams said children's toys today undergo "exhaustive testing" as a result of the 2007 Consumer Product Safety Act.
All the toys she sells have been tested to conform with European toy-safety standards as well, she said.
Recalls are a rarity today among toy retailers, and when they do occur they typically affect purveyors of discount goods alone, Williams said. Conscientious toy-store owners know to avoid potentially hazardous goods, she said.
"I've always been aware" of appropriate toy-safety standards, "because it's important to me," Williams said.
Here is a partial list of toys VPIRG warns could be hazardous to children:
The report identifies toys with high levels of toxic substances, such as the Fun Bubbles jump rope from Dollar Tree, which had 10 times the legal limit of the banned phthalate DEHP (tested at 10,000 ppm) and 190,000 ppm of the toxic phthalate DIBP.
The report found inadequate warning labels in the Disney Pixar Cars Riplash Racers and Disney Planes from Marshalls, G2 Air Mini Football and a Disney Finding Nemo Dory figurine from Five Below, and a Nickelodeon Mermaid Dora the Explorer from Target.
Magic Towels were packaged as a small baseball and a small football at Dollar Tree did not have the appropriate small ball warning label for young children.
Balloons pose the most serious choking hazard to children in the U.S. All of the balloon packages we found did include the required warning label reading that children under eight can choke on balloons and balloon parts. However, we found three balloon sets from Party City which included a second, confusing label indicating that the products are for children ages three and older: the Balloon Animal Kit, Mega Value Pack 16 Latex Punch Balloons, and Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs.
Toys potentially harmful to children's hearing include the Vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels, Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals, Vtech Spin & Learn Color Flashlight, Fisher Price Click n Learn Remote, and Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set from Target that, while they don't violate federal standards, were found to be extremely loud at the ear and at a distance.
Small, powerful magnets pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed. The report found Sizzlers noise magnets from Family Dollar, and Singing magnets from Dollar Tree that are "near-small-parts" which are small enough to be swallowed and can cause severe internal damage.
A list of unsafe toys and tips for safe toy shopping can be found here toysafetytips.org.