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Blair Horner: Keeping The Holiday Season Safe For Children

Thanksgiving is the kick off of the holiday shopping season.  It’s 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 gift givers keep safety in mind when shopping for kids.

A recent survey of toys found that some posed health and safety threats to children.  Among the toys surveyed were examples of choking and excessive noise hazards and toys with potentially hazardous concentrations of toxins.  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.

For more than 30 years, the United States Public Interest Research Group’s (USPIRG) Trouble in Toyland has called for stringent toy safety guidelines and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards to young children.  

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you gift shop for children.  Beware of small parts choking hazards, if you want to test to see if a toy or a part of a toy is too small, see if it fits inside a toilet paper roll, if so, it’s not appropriate for small children.  Uninflated balloons should be kept away from kids under eight and popped balloons should not be left around.  If an action figure, toy gun or other toy produces loud sounds, it can hurt a child’s hearing.  Test the toy by holding it near your ear and if it’s too loud for you, it’s too loud for your child.  You can remove the batteries, put tape over the speaker, or decrease the volume.

Sculpture kits or puzzles may include powerful magnets that can seriously injure children if ingested.  Also, toys marketed to adults may be a hazard in the hands of children.  For example, fidget spinners may not meet the same safety standards as other toys because they are primarily designed with adults in mind, though they can still be marketed directly or indirectly to children.

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 or available online. 
  • 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 accessibility 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 younger children who still put things in their mouths.

While it’s important for parents and other adults to shop smart, there are steps that New York can take to protect children from dangerous products.  One example is a bill that passed both houses of the Legislature and awaits action by the governor. 
The legislation is designed to promote the removal of the most dangerous toxic chemicals—those either known or suspected of causing cancer, reproductive injuries or interfering with children’s development—from everyday children’s products and to steer industry towards safe substitution. 

The bill passed at the end of April with overwhelming bipartisan support, but the governor has not yet acted on the bill.  Advocates hope that with the holiday season looming, the governor will finally approve the legislation.

Until then adults should be on guard when it comes to purchasing toys.  In order to view the full Trouble in Toyland report go to www.nypirg.org.  Parents can find a list of unsafe toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at toysafetytips.org.  Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Blair Horner is executive 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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