TAMPA — An imitation smartphone that plays music loud enough to cause hearing loss. A toddler's play mat laced with antimony. A plastic action figure so small it could lodge in a child's throat.
Those are a few of the children's toys showcased Tuesday at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital as examples of the many "dangerous" and "toxic" items that are still widely available for purchase. The gathering, organized by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Florida Public Interest Research Group, highlighted the dangers of such seemingly harmless toys and served as a call for greater regulations to prevent them from entering the marketplace.
"Just because a toy is on the shelf doesn't mean it is completely safe," said Castor, D-Tampa. She pointed to PIRG's annual Trouble in Toyland report, the result of a research effort that revealed an assortment of potentially harmful toys available for sale.
Among the report's findings were high levels of lead and other toxic substances in many toys. Those include the Lamaze Take and Tidy Activity Mat, a large toddler's play mat in which PIRG found traces of antimony, a toxic element. And there was the Chat and Count Smart Phone, an imitation phone whose various noises register at 85 decibels, well beyond the 65-decibel limit imposed under federal law.
The toys are available despite federal regulations, including the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, designed to prevent them from entering the U.S. market. However, even the event's organizers conceded that such regulations appear to have tempered incidents of toy-related accidents.
"When you look at the statistics, accidents are down, but you have to remember that you cannot guarantee 100 percent safety," said Dalyn Houser, program associate for Florida PIRG. "Parents have to stay vigilant in picking which toys to buy for their children."
St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, which partnered with Castor and PIRG for the news conference, distributed tip sheets for avoiding potentially dangerous toys.
Their advice included selecting toys labeled nontoxic, inspecting toys using a toilet paper roll (items able to fit inside a toilet paper roll are considered choking hazards) and avoiding toys with sharp edges and missing pieces.
To view this year's Trouble in Toyland report and PIRG's guide to unsafe toys, visit uspirg.org.