GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 21, 2012

'Dora' products top toy safety concerns

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — It’s colorful and allows kids to strum a guitar along with 20 songs from the popular “Dora the Explorer” kids television show.

With the show’s craze, many parents might think the Dora Tunes Guitar would be a perfect gift to buy their kid. But a Massachusetts consumer advocacy group has put a warning out to parents and others thinking about buying the toy this holiday season.

The problem with the seemly innocent toy guitar is the volume — about 93 decibels — with no option to turn it down.

The guitar could threaten a child’s hearing, said Victor Gabrielii Augustsson, a consumer advocate with Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a Boston-based consumer group. Research shows that prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels will cause gradual hearing loss in any age range, according to the group.

The national branch of the organization has released its 27th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report and, with Black Friday and the holiday shopping season looming across the North Shore and Cape Ann, presented the findings during a press conference held Tuesday at the Salem YMCA.

Over the years, the report has exposed hazard in toys, including products that are toxic, sharp, magnetic or excessively loud or pose a choking hazard.

While the federal Consumer Product Commission was revamped in 2008 in response to an unprecedented number of toy recalls, many dangerous toys still end up on the store shelves, according to the report.

“Parents need to be aware of these dangers,” Gabrielii Augustsson said. “We want to make sure kids don’t get any dangerous toys in their hands.”

The report provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards. The list includes a dangerous magnet toy, a bowling game that is a choking hazard and a cellphone rattle that is harmful to little ears.

To the backdrop of the kids playing in the family room, Gabrielii Augustsson held up another “Dora the Explorer” product. This time a cute little backpack with the words “Explorers Wanted” printed across the back.

He explained the small pack contains phthalates, a toxic acid used during the manufacturing to soften plastic.

“This is really toxic,” he said. “So kids shouldn’t be chewing on this.”

A major cause of toy-related death and injury is choking from balloons, balls and toys with smaller parts, according to the report. Many toys are either missing age labels or are improperly labeled, Gabrielii Augustsson said.

Regulations currently say toys for children under the age of 3 shouldn’t be able to fit into a cylinder with a diameter of 1.25 inches, but many toys fall short of the requirement, he said. The group recommended parents use a normal toilet paper roll to determine if a product is too small for a young child.

There are also concerns over powerful magnetic toys, especially if swallowed, he said.

Gabrielii Augustsson said MASSPIRG supports stronger regulations for toys because 80 percent of toys are produced overseas.

“But that is no reason for us not to have high standard on our toys,” he said. “(The U.S.) is the largest toy market in the world.”

The group has a cellphone application where people can look up potentially dangerous toys and report possible violations. For more information, go to toysafety.net.

Unsafe toy statistics The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled more than 86,000 individual toys this year because of choking hazards.

Between 1990 and 2011, more than 200 children died from choking incidents. It was estimated between 2009 and 2011 that there were 1,700 emergency room cases nationwide involving the ingestion of high-powered magnets. More than 70 percent of these cases involved children between the ages of 4 and 12.

Over the years, more than 13,900 toys or products have been recalled by CPSC because they violated lead paint regulations.

Jonathan Phelps can be reached through jphelps@gloucestertimes.com.