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Blair Horner: Keeping The Holiday Season Safe For Children

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday shopping season.  It is a time when many adults look for gifts for children.  And while the holidays are a time for fun and giving, it is important that it be a safe time as well.

A recent survey of toys found some that posed health and safety threats to children.  Among the toys surveyed, there were examples of choking hazards and toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards.  The continued presence of these hazards in toys highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that children do not end up playing with unsafe toys.

The problems the report identified included:

·         Toys containing toxic substances, such as lead and chromium. Childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can undermine development, damaging academic achievement and attentiveness. Skin contact with chromium can cause severe allergic reactions including skin redness, swelling and ulcers. Chromium compounds are also known to cause cancer.

·         Toys with small parts have pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age three, can choke on small parts. Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choke hazard for children three years old and younger. Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product.  When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, they can have fatal health consequences as their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, perforating intestinal walls. Our shoppers purchased small, high-powered magnets, despite their being recalled by the CPSC.

·         Toys with batteries. When batteries are ingested, chemical reactions can burn through the esophagus and blood vessels, causing fatal internal bleeding.

·         Toys that generate excessive noise. Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children: Hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development.

Despite recent progress in making toys safer, the report highlighted the need for continued attention to shortcomings in existing standards and vigilance on the part of the shopping public. To keep children safe from potentially hazardous toys, there is still more to do.

·         Examine toys carefully for hazards before purchase – and don’t trust that they are safe just because they are on a store shelf.

·         Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at www.saferproducts.gov.

·         Subscribe to government announcements of recalled products at www.recalls.gov.

For toys already owned:

·         Remove small batteries if there is any question over their security or inaccessibility and keep them out of reach of children;

·         Remove batteries from or tape over the speakers of toys you already own that are too loud; and

·         Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths.

Policymakers must do more to protect children from dangerous toys.  For example, toys that contain toxins must be removed from the shelves.  There is state legislation advanced by Governor Cuomo, that passed the Assembly and which has a majority of Senators in support to do just that.

But until actions are taken, adults should take care in the gifts that they purchase.  Smarter choices can help keep this holiday season safe.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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