Parents cautioned on toy purchases

November 23, 1999

Dangerous toysBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

FREDERICK, Md. - At first glance, the wooden dinosaur pull-toy on wheels looks too cute to be dangerous.

But just imagine its 20-inch chord getting caught around a child's neck.

cont. from front page

A small knob on the end of the string increases the chance of strangulation, Emily Greenfield said and demonstrated by putting the rope around her neck.

Greenfield is a citizen outreach director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that publicizes unsafe toys it finds during an annual random survey.


Toys have gotten safer this year, she said during a Tuesday press conference at the Frederick County Head Start office on Sagner Avenue.

But parents and others shopping for children still need to be cautious when shopping this holiday season, she said.

"Shoppers should examine toys carefully for hidden dangers before they make a purchase," she said.

A toy isn't safe just because it's on store shelves or absent from PIRG's list of dangerous toys, she said.

When choosing toys, parents need to consider the interests and abilities of the child, said Burneda Russell, community health nurse for the Frederick County Health Department.

For example, an autistic boy in New York choked to death on a Pokmon ball that the Consumer Product Safety Commission considered safe for his age group, Greenfield said.

Choking on small toy parts, balloons and small balls continues to be the leading cause of toy-related deaths, she said.

From 1990 to 1998, at least 174 children died while playing with toys. Last year alone, there were 14 toy-related deaths, eight of them from choking, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Toys that pose a choking hazard should be labeled as dangerous to children under 3 years old, she said.

Keep in mind that toys designed for older children might attract younger children, Greenfield said, using the example of a Barbie-like doll called Bettina that has small, removable shoes that pose a hazard.

Any toy or part of a toy that can fit through a cardboard bathroom tissue roll poses a potential risk, she said.

Another way toys can harm children is by strangulation, she said.

Any toy with a cord or rope at least 12 inches long should not have a knob on the end, she said.

On the pull-toy dinosaur, for example, parents could simply remove the knob to make the toy safe, Greenfield said.

There's also a concern about a toxic chemical known as phthalate that is added to some soft vinyl toys as a softener. The chemical is linked to liver and kidney damage.

Parents can't trust warning labels, however.

A toy labeled nontoxic could contain the chemical, she said. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked toy makers to stop using the chemical, there's been no requirement, Greenfield said.

Many toy makers are phasing out the chemical, but none have recalled any toys, she said.

For more information about unsafe toys, check PIRG's Web site at

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