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Consumer group warns of dangerous toys

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 12:15 p.m. CST

(MCT) — The cartoon pencil case and toy cellphone displayed at a news conference Tuesday might look like charming holiday gifts, but a consumer safety watchdog group warned that these and other playthings could pose risks to children.

With Christmas less than a month away and Hanukkah beginning at sunset Wednesday, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group identified 20 toys it says could pose choking, chemical or noise hazards.

"These are not theoretical risks," said Dr. Elizabeth Powell, attending physician for pediatric emergency medicine at Lurie Children's Hospital, who appeared with PIRG officials at the news conference. "They are actual risks."

PIRG has been issuing its report annually for 28 years. Dev Gowda of Illinois PIRG said that despite the organization's findings, none of the toys identified as dangerous, which were purchased at stores including Dollar Tree and Toys R Us, have been recalled by the companies that make them.

That's because they are safe, said Joan Lawrence, vice president of safety standards and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association, who criticized PIRG's report and said consumers should feel confident in the toys on store shelves.

"What they're not telling you is that in order for it to be on that shelf, it already had to be tested and certified," Lawrence said. "What consumers need to know is that when they go into a store, all toys sold in the U.S. already have had to demonstrate compliance with (federal) toy safety standards."

The PIRG report lists five of Hasbro's Littlest Pet Shop toy animals, marketed to children ages 4 and up, as possible choking hazards.

Fisher-Price's Loving Family Outdoor Barbecue set, which is marked suitable for kids starting at age 3, also presented a choking risk, the group said. A Captain America Soft Shield and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil case, both bought at Toys R Us, made the list for potentially dangerous chemical levels. PIRG warned against LeapFrog's Chat & Count Smart Phone and Lil' Phone Pal for emitting noise at such high decibel levels that Gowda said they could put children's hearing at risk.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan spoke at Tuesday's news conference and urged parents to make sure their holiday gifts are age-suitable and have not been subject to any recalls.

"At whatever place you shop, there are potential dangers that you need to educate yourself about," Madigan said.

Gowda said PIRG workers visited toy stores, malls and dollar stores this year looking for potentially dangerous toys. The group tested its purchases for toxicity, noise levels and choking risk and relayed its findings to the industry's federal regulator, the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

PIRG's report outlined a number of recommendations to lawmakers and the CPSC urging stricter controls of the toy market.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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