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‘Tis the Season: Toy Recalls and Product Liability Cases

Although the holidays are often a time of toy shopping and excited children hoping to get their favorite holiday items, it is also a time when parents worry. Toy recalls in recent years have meant that parents are more concerned about – and more aware of – lead paint, chemical burn injury risks, choking hazards, and other toy dangers. Experts claim that this year increased testing may mean that toys are somewhat safer. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled 138 toys, a record. This year, toy recalls by mid-November were only at 74, representing a 46% decrease. As with last year, the majority of toy recalls this year involved lead levels.

In August of this year, new legislation was passed limiting the amount of lead on the surface of a toy to under 600 parts per million (ppm). By August 2009, the limit will be 90 ppm. In addition, internal lead in toys must not exceed 600 ppm by February 2009, and 300 ppm by summer 2009. This may mean that the 2009 holiday season will be even safer.

Major toy companies, worried by product liability problems stemming from last year’s recalls, have also increased their testing. Mattel has boosted its materials and factory inspections. Walmart, Target, Toys”R”Us, and other major toy retailers also testing all toy merchandise themselves for lead and small parts and as well as other hazards that may cause injuries to minors and children.

Despite the good news, the CPSC is warning parents not to let down their guard. Toys purchased second-hand or through independent online retailers (including eBay) may be recalled toys or older toys that do not meet current safety guidelines. Parents need to be extra cautious, since children sometimes receive toys from a variety of sources and it is not always possible to confirm where a gift-giver has purchased a toy. To be safe, parents are encouraged to screen all toys before children receive them. The CPSC Toy Hazard Recalls site lists all recalled toys and makes it relatively easy to find out which toys are considered unsafe.

The CPSC even urges caution for toys that are not on the recall lists. Even toys that have not been recalled can pose a danger, especially when age categories are not considered. A toy that is safe for a 6-year-old can prove dangerous for a 3-year-old. Check and follow manufacturer age recommendations. Once you have purchased a toy, get rid of the packaging and inspect the toy yourself, the CPSC recommends. Use a toilet paper roll to check to see whether parts pose a chocking hazard. Also, check for splinters, sharp edges, and loose bits. Any toys with these red flags should be brought back to the store.

HealthyToys.org also recommends that parents bring back plastic toys with a strong aroma. That smell is volatile chemicals, which are not necessarily safe. HealthyToys.org also recommends that parents pass on toys containing vinyl or PVC (polyvinyl chloride). A symbol with a recycling symbol and the number 3 inside it indicate the presence of these chemicals.

Although safety obviously comes first, experts also recommend that parents look for toys that engage their children and pique creativity and curiosity. Toys should not only be safe, but they should help children have fun and should help children develop and grow. Experts all agree that despite the many precautions, many manufacturers do make toys that are educational, fun, and safe. It simply may take a bit of research to uncover these products.

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