By ALEXIS GUTTER
ANNAPOLIS (November 23, 2010)Health advocates recommend parents spend extra time researching holiday season gifts this year, as recent reports show some toys may supply surprises beyond sheer fun.
Tuesday, Maryland PIRG, a public advocacy organization, hosted an event at the Sinai Hospital of Baltimore in which it released its 25th annual Trouble in Toyland report on potentially toxic and unsafe toys.
Many toys have been found to include polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which has been linked to early-onset puberty, reproductive disorders and learning disabilities, said Jenny Levin, a Maryland PIRG associate.
PVC is typically found in plastic toys and is used to make them more malleable, Levin said. She said that while the chemical is not exclusive to toys, eliminating exposure where possible is the goal.
"It's not that this exposure through toys alone can be directly attributed to rising rates of chronic illnesses," Levin said. "We're being exposed to chemicals in many places. Whether it is through toys, food, air or bloodstream in the womb, when added together, exposure gets higher."
Whether it's a doll's hair or paint on a toy gun containing harmful chemicals, or toys with small pieces not marked as choking hazards, advocates urge parents to be mindful of purchases.
"Toys are safer than ever before, but there are still toys that slip through the cracks," Levin said. "Parents need to be vigilant when they're shopping. They should check retail lists and know exactly what they're looking at."
In a Nov. 18 report, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice targeted toy retailer, Toys R Us, for selling products containing PVC.
Of the 60 toys tested for the report, only one was labeled for containing PVC, though more than 70 percent showed they likely contained the chemical.
Furthermore, in order to see the warning on the box of the only product labeled for PVC, the consumer would have to begin opening the box, said Moira Bulloch, director of communications for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
A Toys R Us representative declined to comment.
Bulloch said retailers are not the original source of the problem, the manufacturer is. She said the reason for Toys R Us being targeted for the report is its responsibility to consumers.
In 2009, about 70 percent of households with children under 12 shopped at Toys R Us, according to the report.
"You can find toxic toys in stores across the country, but parents are not able to put pressure on manufacturers one by one," Bulloch said. "They are interacting with retailers like Toys R Us. Toys R Us has quite a bit of clout on the market for manufacturers."
But manufacturers complain that advocacy organizations like Maryland PIRG are pointing out problems without providing ideas for improvement.
Almar Sales manufactures a tiara that fell under Maryland PIRG's scrutiny for containing lead. But the level of lead is below the legal limit, said Allen Ash, vice president of Almar Sales.
"It's impossible to ban all lead from these products," Ash said. "It's like saying you can't have rubber in tires. If advocacy groups can find a way to produce products without lead, we'd be happy to discuss that."
Health professionals are also concerned about hazardous toys. Sinai Hospital Dr. Anthony Caterina suggests that parents be aware of toys with sharp objects, loose pieces and cracked paint.
"We want our children to have a good holiday experience," Caterina said. "The best holiday experience is a safe one."
To view the Center for Health, Environment and Justice report, visit www.toxictoysrus.com/report.htm. To view the PIRG report, visit www.uspirg.org. To view restrictions and standards for toys, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website at www.cpsc.gov.