Top federal officials are trying to block a flood of dangerous toys from overseas from hitting the U.S. store shelves this holiday season.
Federal customs and consumer protection officials have intercepted more than 2 million units of dangerous toys and children's products so far this year at U.S. ports of entry, they said today.
At a press briefing Thursday, U.S. Customs and Consumer Product Safety Commission officials laid out a display of seized toys that any child could love: princess jewelry, toy cars, dolls and action figures.
But the innocent-looking playthings from overseas manufacturers were blocked from entering the country because they all can be hazardous to the health of a child, investigators said. Some contained dangerously high levels of lead. Others had sharp edges or contained small parts that could choke a small child.
"Together with CPSC, we have intercepted record amounts of unsafe products," Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar said. "We are here to raise consumers' awareness about the very real danger of unsafe products."
Earlier this month in Detroit, authorities intercepted more than 3,000 toy guns from China. Testing revealed all had excessive levels of lead.
At a seizure last week in Jacksonville, Fla., authorities found toy cars also had lead contamination at levels high enough to do long-lasting harm to a child. In total, nearly 24,000 toys, valued at $22,000, were seized for lead violations in the Jacksonville case.
Since 2008, customs officials said, seizures have nearly doubled both in quantity and value for consumer products imported into the U.S. CBP has targeted more than 5,000 high-risk shipments for examination through the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center (CTAC) in Washington on behalf of CPSC, leading to the seizure of thousands of dangerous imported consumer products.
But dangerous toys still kill some American kids. Thirteen kids younger than 15 died in toy-related deaths in 2011, according to the CPSC. That is down from 19 fatalities in 2010 and 17 reported in 2009. The majority of the toy-related fatalities were attributed to asphyxiation, choking or drowning. They included children choking on balloons, drowning after trying to retrieve a toy from a swimming pool or being found with tricycles in swimming pools.
The Toy-Related Deaths and Injuries Report released by CPSC today estimated 193,200 toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries to children younger than 15 occurred in 2011. Many of the incidents were associated with, but not necessarily caused by, a toy.
For children younger than 15, non-motorized scooters continued to be the category of toys associated with the most injuries. There are no figures for how many of those toys may have come from overseas, but officials believe that oftentimes, it is cheap and shoddily-made imports that cause the problems.
"Proactive surveillance at the ports, strong toy standards and educational efforts create a safer holiday toy shopping experience for consumers by keeping dangerous products off store shelves," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Ultimately, our goal is to protect our most vulnerable population -- kids -- and keep them safe this holiday season."
While federal officials said they were doing everything they could to protect America's children, they admitted that some of the unsafe products end up on store shelves.
Tenenbaum urged parents and other family members to be vigilant when making toy purchases. In particular, officials said that if a toy looks significantly underpriced, beware.
The CPSC offered these safety tips for protecting children from hazardous toys:
Balloons -- Children can choke or suffocate on deflated or broken balloons. Keep deflated balloons away from children under the age of 8. Discard broken balloons immediately.
Small balls and other toys with small parts -- For children under the age of 3, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
Scooters and other riding toys -- Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast, and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be worn properly at all times, and they should be sized to fit.
Magnets -- High powered magnet sets are dangerous and should be kept away from children under the age of 14. Building and play sets with small magnets should also be kept away from small children.
Once gifts are open:
Immediately discard plastic wrapping or other toy packaging before they become dangerous play things.
Keep toys appropriate for older children away from younger siblings.
Battery charging should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to young children. Pay attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers. Some chargers lack any mechanism to prevent overcharging.