Dangerous toys - many containing toxic chemicals - are still being found in U.S. stores according to an environmental and public interest research group. In its 25th annual report, the group points at dangers for children in the toys their parents buy. While the government's agency for Consumer product safety shares these concerns, the toy industry denies the accusations.
After 25 years of research, more than 130 toy recalls and much legal action, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says toy safety is still a serious issue. The group's latest study, recently released in Washington, cites issues ranging from toxic paints, to toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, to dangerously small-sized toys for babies.
"We purchase toys at national retailers and we send them to a laboratory that found toys or children products that contain lead and antimony, a carcinogen regulated in surface coating," said Elizabeth Hitchcock, the organization's public health advocate.
She holds some handcuffs as an example. "The handcuffs we measure 12 parts per million of antimony, it's a carcinogen and its 20 times the amount that was allowed." And a tiara... "This is actually just below the legal limit for lead on the surface coding"
The lab tests also found phthalates - a group of chemicals used to make plastic softer - which have been connected to numerous adverse health effects, particularly in children.
"This baby doll contains two of the six types of phthalates," said Hitchcock. "We know that children under three put everything on their mouth."
In the last 12 months, Hitchcock says, the government has recalled more than half a million toys and children's products for the use of lead, as well as more than 12 million products that contain high levels of the carcinogen Cadmium.
"But there are tens of thousands of chemicals on the market for which there has been little or no safety testing," she said.
In addition to toxic chemicals, the study found that some toys still pose other dangers to children, such as choking hazards. Jennifer Tapper almost lost her one-year-old baby Jack after he swallowed a small piece contained in this train toy.
"I noticed Jack had the red removable block in his mouth," said Tapper. "Within seconds I saw him suck the block down his throat."
Robert Adler, of the U.S. government's Consumer Product Safety Commission, says the Commission shares many of the same concerns, but says he regrets his office does not have enough resources to test all children's products.
"We do have authority over hazardous chemicals but we really lack the resources to do the independent, original research into chemical toxicity," said Adler. "The more we learn about chemicals, the more it seems that we do have a serious problem."
The U.S. Commerce Department says about 85 percent of the toys sold in the U.S. are produced outside of the country. She shows more examples.
"This was made in China," said Elizabeth Hitchock. "This was made in China"
Nevertheless, the Toy Industry Association says there is nothing to worry about.
"Consumers need to know that toys on the shelf are safer than they have ever been," said Stacy Leistner, the association's spokesperson.
Leistner admits the association does not test any toys on its own, but leaves that up to the the government. He does say the carcinogen cadmium is no longer in use.
"Cadmium is one of several heavy metals that is already restricted in the toy safety standard," he said. "So it is important to know that there is a difference in the definition of toys and other children's products, especially children's jewelry."
And that legal distinction between the definition of a "toy" and of other "children's products" seems to be the complicating factor in the effort to regulate children's exposure to dangerous items.