Toxic Toys: One in Three Questioned by Consumer Group

Consumer group's study finds one in three toys tested had dangerous substances.

December 2, 2008, 7:47 PM

Dec. 3, 2008— -- A consumer group that wants to ban lead and certain chemicals from toys is out with its holiday survey and says one-third of the 1,500 toys it tested have what it calls "significant" levels of toxins. But does that mean the toys aren't safe?

The Ecology Center of Michigan says it used an X-ray detector to test the toys. It claims that 20 percent of the toys had detectable levels of lead.

"There is simply no place for toxic chemicals in children's toys," said the Ecology Center's Jeff Gearhart, who conducted the research.

Even though the Toy Industry Association hasn't seen the report, the group's president Carter Keithley said, "If there is a problem with lead or chemicals we want to know, so we can fix it."

But Keithley said pointing an X-ray detector at a toy and finding any level of lead can be misleading.

"That's unfair," he said. "There is a functional purpose for lead. We work hard to make sure toys are safe."

In fact, federal regulations do allow certain levels of the tested substances in toys. Take the lead tests conducted by the Ecology Center. While 20 percent had some lead, only 3.5 percent (54) of the toys tested had levels above the federal standard. Two of the toys were made in the United States according to the Ecology Center.

Still, a year after the scandal over lead in toys, many people will find it alarming that any toy contains an "illegal amount" of lead.

Gearhart told ABC News that while his group has concern about many of these toys, the center will not say that a toy is unsafe or whether the lead or chemical could actually be ingested by a child.

On each page listing a toy's rating is this statement: "IMPORTANT NOTE: ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual toy or children's product, or any individual element or related chemical."

"We readily admit our tests are more conservative," Gearhart said. "We are overly protective."

The Ecology Center says it hopes its tests and list of toys will help inform parents who are buying Christmas gifts.

The TIA admits there may be some important news in the study.

"If toys exceed standards, they shouldn't be on shelves," Keithley told ABC News. "They may be doing us a favor."

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