News Briefs: Dangerous toys; public conflict survey

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe." -- Michael Basmajian, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' MASSPIRG campus organizer

Survey finds dangerous toys on store shelves

Pittsfield — Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s (MASSPIRG) 30th annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including chromium and phthalates, both of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that can threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

Michael Basmajian of MASSPIRG presenting the results of the annual toy survey.
Michael Basmajian of MASSPIRG presenting the results of the annual toy survey.

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Michael Basmajian, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts‘ MASSPIRG Campus Organizer.

“Families need the tools to know what is safe for their children at various ages and the industry has to be continually held accountable” said State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. “I find it particularly troublesome that it is almost always the lower cost toys that are hazardous which puts our most vulnerable families at a higher risk.”

“While we all want toys to be safe for our children to enjoy, unfortunately there are some that pose risks that toy buyers need to know. MASSPIRG is smart to bring these risky toy products to our attention” said Gailanne M. Cariddi, D-North Adams.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. Chemical testing done at a lab which is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of three, toys that pose choking hazards are still available in stores. A fairy wand from Dollar Tree has small parts that easily break off and was not labeled as a choking hazard.
  • Inadequate warning labels in the Disney Pixar Cars Riplash Racers and Disney Planes from Marshall’s, G2 Air Mini Football and a Disney Finding Nemo Dory figurine from Five Below, and a Nickelodeon Mermaid Dora the Explorer from Target were not sufficient to meet U.S. standards.
  • Small balls pose a hazard for young children, who are inclined to put objects in or near their mouths. Magic Towels packaged as a small baseball and a small football at Dollar Tree did not have the appropriate small ball warning label.
  • Balloons pose the most serious choking hazard to children in the U.S. All of the balloon packages found did include the required warning label reading that children under eight can choke on balloons and balloon parts. However, three balloon sets from Party City included a second, confusing label indicating that the products are for children ages three and older: the Balloon Animal Kit, Mega Value Pack 16 Latex Punch Balloons, and Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs.
  • Toys that are potentially harmful to children’s hearing were also found. Vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels, Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals, Vtech Spin & Learn Color Flashlight, Fisher Price Click n Learn Remote, and Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set from Target, while not violating federal standards, were found to be extremely loud at the ear and at a distance.
  • Small, powerful magnets can pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed. Sizzlers noise magnets from Family Dollar and Singing magnets from Dollar Tree that are “near-small-parts” don’t violate federal standards but are small enough to be swallowed and could cause severe internal damage.

Over the past seven years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market. Rules put in place by the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates. Earlier this year the CPSC implemented a ban on small, powerful toy magnets. However not all toys comply with the law, and holes in the toy safety net remain.

“We need to protect our children in the best way we can,” said Avis Merrill, Director of the Norman Rockwell Early Childhood Center located on the Berkshire Community College campus in Pittsfield. “Part of that includes making sure children have safe educational toys both at home and in childcare.”

–E.E.

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Massachusetts Municipal Conflict Resolution study

Boston — Conflict is natural in public life. Some conflict is “good” or constructive and some conflict is “bad” or destructive (harmful and/or dysfunctional). However, on-going public conflict over social issues can have damaging consequences to both local governments and communities. In the FY 2015 state budget, the Massachusetts Legislature commissioned the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston to study conflict resolution needs of Mass. municipalities. The recommendations from the interim report of the study have been refined and prioritized by a committee composed of municipal officials and experts. A survey has been developed that seeks public feedback on these recommended solutions that are being developed for inclusion in the final report to be filed with the Legislature in December.

Those participating in the survey will contribute to the various approaches to dealing with destructive public conflict in Massachusetts. The survey will take about five minutes to complete.

–E.E.