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Consumer advocacy group announces new Web site to check toy safety

ST. PETERSBURG — Parents are now armed with a new device to help them avoid unsafe toys: their cell phones.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group announced a new Web site Tuesday aimed at helping parents: www.toysafety.mobi.

The site is aimed at cell phone users — that's why it ends in .mobi — so they can check the safety of toys while walking through the aisles of stores.

That's good news to Lisa Stone. The 40-year-old was shopping at Target Tuesday afternoon with her 8-year-old daughter, Sophia. Stone, who also has a 19-year-old son, said she used to go online to check whether toys are safe. But if she had the option to check on her phone, it's something she would have used.

"You just never know what could be dangerous," she said as her daughter played with a jack-in-the-box. "Even though she's older, she still puts things up to her mouth."

Tuesday morning the Florida arm of the public advocacy group spoke at All Children's Hospital, discussing the new Web site as well as the organization's 24th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report. Most of the "trouble" involves toys that pose choking hazards for very young children.

There have been 368 toy-related deaths in the United States since 1990, according to the report. More than half were caused by choking or asphyxiation. Many could have been prevented if the dangerous toys weren't on the shelves to begin with, consumer advocates say.

State Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, said 1.3 million toys were recalled last year because of lead tainting.

"That's 1.3 million too many, in my opinion," he said.

A table full of toys stood next to the podium. Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate with the Florida Public Interest Research Group, pointed out the various defects.

Some, such as a purse, had pieces that didn't appear to have any problems. But testing showed the purse tested contained a toxic chemical called phthalate.

Other toys the group checked had parts that could cause children to choke, were excessively loud and could cause hearing loss or contained high concentrations of lead.

"And here is the most menacing and terrible toy on the shelves," Ashwell said. "The balloon."

With children always wanting to put items in their mouths, balloons become a big choking hazard, he said. But most parents don't automatically think about that, he said.

The report says 78 out of 196 choking deaths were caused by balloons, or 40 percent.

In 2008, Congress overhauled the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which included a push for more toy inspections following highly publicized recalls of tainted toys. In a show of its new role, the commission recalled more than 2.1 million baby cribs it deemed unsafe.

"So progress has been made," Ashwell said. "But we have a long way to go. … Compared to where we were 16 years ago, we're light years ahead."

Toy safety is something Laurin Letzring, 46, knows about. She was out shopping Tuesday with her fourth child, 6-year-old Joey. She said if she were a brand-new parent, the mobile toy safety site is definitely something she would use. She said although the site sounds useful, she has another thing on her side: her 17 years of parenting experience.

"If whatever I've done hasn't killed them yet," she joked, "I think we've done a good job so far."

Andy Boyle can be reached at aboyle@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8087.

Consumer advocacy group announces new Web site to check toy safety 11/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 10:53am]
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