Research group suggests some toys should stay out of Santa's bag

November 22, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Maryland Public Interest Research Group associate Carly Mercer shows some toys that fail to meet material or sound safety standards, including a 93-decibel Hot Wheels car.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

The rumble and roar of the Hot Wheels Super Stunt RAT BOMB can be more than irritating. At 93 decibels, at a distance of 10 inches it can damage a child’s hearing, said Carly Mercer of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.

Even Elmo’s Cell Phone poses a hearing hazard, pumping out 73 decibels when held close to the ear, Mercer said.

“One in five U.S. children will suffer some kind of hearing loss by the time they reach the age of 12,” Mercer said Tuesday when she stopped at The Herald-Mail with a sack of toys she believes Santa should not be delivering this holiday season.

There are tools offered by Maryland PIRG and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to help parents protect their children this season.

In its 26th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report, PIRG has identified samples of toys purchased at a variety of stores that pose hazards for children.

In addition to noise, Mercer said there are three other hazard categories PIRG identified in toys: Choking hazards, lead and phthalates — a chemical used to soften plastic that, when ingested, can cause reproductive and developmental issues.

The cardboard core from a roll of toilet paper is an easy way to judge whether a toy or toy part is a choking hazard to a child age 3 and younger, Mercer said.

The CPSC has a choking hazard tube, and anything that can fit within it is not supposed to be marketed to young children, she said.

From 2005 to 2009, 41 children died from choking on toys, Mercer said.

However, some toys that do not fit in the device could pass the CPSC standard, but still fit into a child’s mouth, Mercer said. If the object won’t fit into the larger toilet paper roll, it is likely safe for younger children, she said.

The old standard for the neurotoxin lead in toys of 300 parts per million was lowered earlier this year to 100 ppm, Mercer said.

However, PIRG “found toys that violate both the new standard and the old standard,” she said.

Pigments and materials used in a book, “Little Hands Love,” had test results through an Environmental Protection Agency approved laboratory of 720 ppm, Mercer said.

The standard for phthalates is 1,000 ppm, but PIRG found a plastic sleep mask for children that tested at 77,000 ppm, Mercer said.

Several of the toys Mercer brought had characters and images familiar and attractive to children, including Sesame Street, Disney and Nickelodeon. A Tinkerbell watch met the new lead standard at 90 ppm, but PIRG recommends lead levels not exceed 40 ppm, she said.

“No government agency inspects toys before they are sold,” Mercer said.

While CPSC sets standards and can order recalls, it is up to manufacturers to inspect toys to ensure they meet safety standards, she said.

“Not yet,” Mercer said when asked if any of the toys she brought were subject to a recall.

For more information about potentially hazardous toys, consumers can check the CPSC website,, or the PIRG website, If a question arises while a shopper is in the store, Mercer said they can go to

Parents should also keep in mind that children of different age groups will be playing together during holiday gatherings, so toys appropriate for older children might be accessible to younger ones, she said.

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