Dangerous toys are focus of safety group's annual report

Petra Vybiralova, Safety Instructor for Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition, points out the danger in another toy Tuesday. [DIRK SHADD | Times] 
Petra Vybiralova, Safety Instructor for Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition, points out the danger in another toy Tuesday. [DIRK SHADD | Times] 
Published Nov. 23, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Wassam Rahman has pulled countless button batteries and magnets from toddlers' noses, ears and windpipes.

"If I had a coin for every patient I saw, I'd be a millionaire by now," he said.

In 2015, more than 250,000 emergency visits nationwide for children younger than 15 were toy-related.

Rahman, an emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, alerted holiday-shopping parents at a news conference to the Florida Public Interest Group's 31st annual toy safety report.

The report identifies 44 toys — ranging from M&M-branded jewelry with high levels of lead and Ikea bat capes that can cause strangulation to hoverboards/self-balancing scooters with batteries that can overheat and catch fire or explode — that have been recalled since January 2015.

Many of the toddlers Rahman sees, he said, got hold of a loose part of an older sibling's toy or gadget they find at home.

"Sometimes (small parts) can be hard to find," he said. "They can cause very devastating injuries if ingested."

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission has tested and identified these toys as dangerous for various reasons, including choking hazards and containing toxic chemicals, many are still in circulation on various websites.

"We need to protect our youngest consumers from recalled toys," said Susan McGrath, the executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "We should be able to trust that toys we buy are safe. However, until then, consumers should understand two things: First, not all recalls are well-publicized. So we should check our house for previously recalled toys. … Secondly, some toys that have been recalled are still available online."

Many hazards involved products with wires or chargers that can overheat, including certain types of drones. And though regulation of toxic chemicals has improved, certain products, such as the Cra-Z-Jewelz Gem Creations jewelry-making kit and the Green Tones Monkey Glockenspiel — a brand that advertises "good for your child, good for the environment" — may contain excessive levels of lead, according to the report released Tuesday.

Other products have small parts that can fall off and become choking hazards, such as certain pacifier clips, pull toys and bean bag chairs with zip openings that have nothing to prevent the insides from falling out.

Petra Vybiralova, a safety instructor for the Florida Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition, led by Johns Hopkins All Children's, said sometimes parents can use simple tools as safety gauges when shopping for kids. If a toy has a part that can go through a toilet paper roll, she said, as many of the beaded pacifier clips and pull toys do, it's too small for a toddler and can pose a risk.

But when shopping online, she said, it's important to check for recalls first.

U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who attended the conference and was one of 150 co-sponsors of a 2008 bill to revamp the Consumer Product Safety Commission and expand its budget for staff and tools such as the online database, said it's important that the agency remains adequately funded.

"With the new administration coming into the White House, there's a lot of talk about rolling back regulations, and I think it's incumbent upon all of us to say not to rollback the Consumer Product Safety Commission," she said. "(It's important) to make sure that they continue to have the tools they need to protect our kids."

Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.