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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Child Safety Advocates Step In Where Toy Regulators Fail

Every year about 120,000 children experience toy-related injuries severe enough for hospital treatment. And every December, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in Washington is accused of turning its back on dangerous toys that maim children.

The principal accusers are the Americans for Democratic Action and Edward M. Swartz, a Boston trial lawyer and child safety advocate. They charge that the CPSC does not use its authority to ban, recall and issue current safety standards to keep hazardous toys off the market. They contend that the Commission is too cozy with the toy industry, that it distributes the industry’s misleading literature and does not care about its toy safety mission. Commission Chairman Terrence Scanlon is viewed, by many consumer groups, as an industry-indentured regulator who is not interested in applying law and order to the manufacturers he is supposed to regulate.
A few days ago, Attorney Swartz, who authored the book, Toys That Don’t Care, in 1971, produced his annual public report on toy dangers. Releasing a list of “Ten Worst Toys of 1985,” Swartz used them to illustrate some recurrent themes of CPSC’s failure to perform its mission. War toys with projectile weaponry are in many stores. Many plastic toys such as squeeze toys, pacifiers and teethers are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which contains a toxic ingredient DEHP. Age grades on toys are often omitted or inappropriate. As a result a toy that contains small parts may lead to ingestion due to inadequate warning labels.

One of his ten worst toys is the Robot/helicopter and Robot/Jeep, produced by the Japanese company Bandai. These toys contain several small parts that could be ingested, so the manufacturer warns “Please be careful not to swallow them.” However the warning is in Japanese only. The toy, says Swartz, even violates the toy industry’s standard regarding small parts.

Another “worst toy” is a ploy cosmetic set by the Swiss firm Caran D’Ache. Called Junior Cosmetics, this set contains several toxic ingredients including cyanide. Swartz, who makes his living suing toy manufacturers, was astonished to observe that the back of the package states “not to be used in the eye area,” while the front of the package shows a face already painted in the eye area with a cosmetic “crayon” stick. The package contains no warnings of toxicity nor any instruction against putting the crayons in one’s mouth.

Other toys on the Swartz list are the Cabbage Patch Kids Toy Pacifier and Rattle, the Crazy ‘Bout You! Teddy Bear, Little Twin Stars Play Package, Wooden Projectile Guns, Tiny Message Bears, Big Bird Sleepytime, a Baby Exerciser by Maison Joseph Battat which has no warning against being strung across a crib or playpen to avoid suffocation and strangulation accidents, and, lastly, a Laser Ray Gun with a dart shooting unit for children as young as three years of age.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, who has studied little children for half a century, observed recently that complex toys which children become quickly bored with (and which pinch the parent’s pocketbook) do little for the child’s creative development. He favors old fashioned building block type toys that children can find as endlessly fascinating as their imagination. He is troubled by the toys that simulate major weapons of destruction.

Most of the toy industry could care less about what parents and Dr. Spock think. One of their representatives went on television this month to say that they aim to please the child, not the parent. Who’s raising the child anyhow — the corporations or mother and father?

(If you wish a free copy of Edward Swartz’s hazardous toy report, write to him at 10 Marshal Street Boston, MA 02108).