Dangerous Toys Could Still Be on Shelves

Since last year's holiday shopping season, huge changes have altered toy safety laws, sparked by numerous recalls that left parents fearful about the products they were buying for their kids.

But that doesn't mean unsafe toys have been removed from stores in time for this winter's shopping season.

"When you have that many recalls, it really calls attention to some holes in the product safety net," Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, told ABCNews.com Tuesday.

"That's the really good news," she said. "Unfortunately, many of the protections that were in that very strong bill will not be in effect until next year."

The measure signed into law in August includes new requirements for the amount of lead and plastic-softening chemicals known as phthalates in products meant for kids younger than 12. It also calls for mandatory safety tests and sets forth more ways to keep kids safe in the event of a recall.

But it will be February before several of its provisions that address toxic chemicals take effect. For that reason, PIRG focused on lead and phthalate warnings in releasing its 23rd annual toy safety survey today.

What to Watch Out For

To avoid products made with potentially unsafe chemicals, the group warned parents to stay vigilant about the toys they buy in the weeks ahead.

"While larger retailers in particular have increased their testing of toys and put pressure on manufacturers for early compliance, there still could be trouble in toyland this year," the survey said. "Our researchers continue to examine both discount stores and larger stores for noncompliance. We readily found toxic toys on store shelves."

Specifically, the group advised parents to steer clear of heavy metal jewelry and toys made with PVC plastic. Health groups have also found high levels of lead in vinyl lunchboxes and bibs. The group suggested parents opt for unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.

PIRG also provided additional tips for parents, saying consumers should not buy magnetic toys for kids younger than 6 and avoid toys with small parts for kids younger than 3. "We urge parents to recognize that not everything that's on a store shelf has been tested before it got there," Hitchcock said. "And not everything that doesn't appear on our list is safe."

Still, several stores have already announced plans to phase out toys with phthalates in them. Toys R Us, for instance, told manufacturers that by the year's end, products for young children sold at its stories must be made without the addition of phthalates.

At the Consumer Product Safety Commission, information and public affairs director Julie Vallese said the commission had been working with toy makers throughout the year to educate them on product safety.

"The CPSC has been investigating and scrutinizing toys throughout the year as we always do," Vallese told ABCNews.com Tuesday. "There have been fewer recalls, and the agency has seen fewer recalls from lead."

The Toy Industry Association also released a statement Tuesday reassuring customers that toys are safe.

"Toy safety is the No. 1 priority for the toy industry, and the industry has been working year-round to regain consumer confidence," TIA said.

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