Feeling like Spring

Razor USA's new Graffiti Action Scooter

The rain this morning made me hopeful that Spring can’t be that far away.  And for some reason…when I think Spring…I think scooters.  As I’m writing this I realize that many people probably don’t go directly to scooters…but hey, I play with toys.

I’m looking forward to testing the newest scooter from Razor USA…this one has a piece of chalk in the back. Wondering how it will work…without the chalk breaking. Last year they had a “spark” off the back end…something our testers enjoyed as a novelty.  Even though this has been given an edgy name, it’s called the Graffiti Action Scooter, this is a kinder and gentler scooter that  will probably appeal to a different audience.  Stay tuned.

Mattel’s response to Prop 65 postings on Amazon

One of our readers pointed out that there were California Prop 65 warnings on several Mattel track sets on Amazon.  Prop 65 requires companies to provide notice that their product may contain certain chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects.  Two of our current award winners were posted with such a warning. So we asked Mattel for a statement.

From Mattel:

Recently several of our Hot Wheels products: Hot Wheels Color Shifter Blaster, Hot Wheels Color Shifters Stunt Set and the Hot Wheels Tub Racers Playset were incorrectly listed on Amazon.com as requiring a California Proposition 65 warning. These warnings were posted in error and Amazon.com is working to correct this information immediately. Mattel is committed to providing safe, engaging play experiences for kids of all ages.

Thanks to our reader for pointing this out! If you’d like to read more about the history and current requirements of Prop 65, click here.

More on Cadmium

Happy to read Ravlya Ismall’s piece Why Do Jewelery Makers Get Off Easy With Cadmium?

There are certainly many issues facing the nation this year–but the lack of aggressiveness on this issue on the part of the  CPSC seems to be a step backwards when it comes to protecting our children from hidden dangers in toys and jewelry.

A different spin on Cadmium in children’s products

I was somewhat surprised today to see how the NYTs is addressing the cadmium issue in their article, U.S. Seeks Limits on Cadmium for Toys and Jewelry.  What really happened yesterday was the that CPSC asked the industry to self-regulate.  The CPSC Chairman, Inez M. Tenebaum is quoted:  “If we find those standards are insufficient to protect the health and safety of consumers, then we can move to a mandatory standard.”

Why are we waiting? I would have thought that after our experiences with the toy industry and dangerous lead levels–that we have learned our lesson about self-regulation.  Leaving this to the industry also means a continued uncertainty about how to test for cadmium.  As with lead the way you test can greatly impact the results. We agree with the Center for Environmental Health that the standard on the federal level should be the same as it is now in California–which bans children’s jewelry that contains more than 300 parts per million total cadmium.  The “total” testing approach is superior to the extraction approach being used.  The CEH points out that the extraction approach does not take into account the wear and tear that occurs.

This is a step in the wrong direction.

CPSC Backs off Tougher Standards for Cadmium in Children’s Products

Despite all indications that the CPSC was really stepping up and setting tough standards on the levels of cadmium in children’s products– today the agency backed down.  They are suggesting that the industry self-enforce.  Hmmmm? How well did that work out the last time when we were talking about lead.  We are especially concerned that children’s jewelry (that often finds its way into the mouth) is full of cadmium (instead of lead).

Here is an excerpt from the press release we received from the non-profit group  Center for Environmental Health:

“Today’s announcement falls far short of what is needed to end this health threat to children,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “California has adopted a sensible standard that should serve as a national model for limits on cadmium in children’s products. Sadly, if it goes forward, CPSC’s standard would be a step backwards for children’s health.”

In September, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation banning sales of children’s jewelry that contain more than 300 parts per million (ppm) total cadmium. In advocating for the law, which had bipartisan and industry support, CEH noted that a standard based on the total amount of cadmium – and not the amount extracted in a lab solution – is more health protective for children, more enforceable for government regulators, and less expensive and less cumbersome for industry to adopt.

CEH lead testing of thousands of toys and children’s products since 2008 has demonstrated that the federal standard – based on the total lead content – has been highly successful in protecting children and meeting industry’s need for predictable and achievable regulations. Despite this successful regulatory approach and California’s legislative approach, CPSC today announced that it is aiming to create a federal standard based on the amount of cadmium extracted from children’s items.

CEH notes that a total content standard is more appropriate for a cadmium rule because:

It’s safer for children: testing products using an extraction test at the time of production fails to account for normal wear-and-tear, which can dramatically change the amount of the toxic metal that could be released; total content testing avoids this problem, since the total amount of the toxic metal does not change.

It’s more enforceable: total content testing is more objective and repeatable than extraction testing, which is subject to much more variability and error.

It’s less costly and less cumbersome for industry: producers of children’s products can order and test raw materials for total content before fabricating products, saving them time and resources. In most cases, extraction testing is only valid on finished products, so producers may not know that a product fails testing until after the product is ready for marketing.

CEH also notes that inexpensive screening by x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers for cadmium is widely available and already in use by some toy and children’s products companies. Yet such testing may be useless for meeting an extraction standard.

Earlier this year, CEH findings led to the group’s initiating the nation’s first-ever legal challenge to cadmium in jewelry. The nonprofit has ongoing litigation <http://www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=440&amp;Itemid=166> for sales of cadmium-tainted jewelry against leading major retailers, including Walmart, Saks, Rainbow and several others. CEH and other groups have also petitioned CPSC and the Environmental Protection Agency, urging them to address the issue of cadmium in children’s products. In an EPA response this August, the agency suggested it would “…work closely with CPSC to determine the most effective means for addressing cadmium in toy metal jewelry and other consumer products, and to determine if action by CPSC should have precedence.”

Toy Safety…again

Last night I was talking about the new toy season – thinking about getting to share another year’s worth of testing.  I know we don’t make any of these toys, but we do take pride in our list of award winners.  It takes a lot of work to get to those select toys that do what they say they’re going to do–AND they’re fun, well made, and going to enhance your child’s play experience.  While there are definite points of the year when I ponder what I do for a living, at the end of the day my mother and I really love finding great products. Our network of family testers take their work seriously and we love the feedback we get from the play trenches!

So you can imagine my dismay this morning. I was barely awake when I saw a reporter on tv with a new set of toys being recalled.  I thought (hoped) that I was still asleep. But no, it was real and even more alarming one of our scheduled award winners was on the list.   All of my happy thoughts about kicking off a new season without the upset of recalls was gone.  Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled 10+ million plus toys and equipment for kids.

The issue this year is not lead or pvc — but small parts.  Now if you’ve read my blog you know this has been an on going worry for us.  In this case the issue is small parts potentially breaking off and posing a choking hazard–but we have been observing small parts that are meant to be there.  Small parts that just stick out of the official choke tube but fall in a toilet roll center (the at-home test recommended by the CPSC).

As always we encourage parents to trust their instincts. If something looks too small or is too loud or is too rough (we had lots of splinter issues this year as well)….take the toy back.  If you have kids that mouth their toys, keep a toilet roll near by.  Put away questionable pieces for the time being.

Safety issues remain

I just got an amazing new collection of small wooden blocks…150 pieces with an even greater price. The quality is very good–there are both plain and colored blocks.  I was really psyched -hoping we could get a safety verification form quickly so that we could put it on our Platinum List.  But then I looked at the age label 2 & up and while all of the pieces pass the federal guidelines for small parts with a choke tube, the pieces are just a tad bigger than the regulations provide. In otherwords, they are legal but if you used a toilet paper roller (recommended to consumers by the CPSC), the pieces would fail.

This year we got many many sets with toys for pieces that are unnecessarily small.  And while you could argue that your two year old may not choke, the pieces could certainly gag your toddler. If you’ve watched toddlers play, you  know they still taste their toys.

There is no developmental or educational value of smaller parts for this age group that outweighs the safety issues poses by these smaller pieces.

So – yes toys are much safer this holiday season.  The toy industry is now required to pre-test toys -rather than the old self-regulation systems.  But still know that you are still the best consumer advocate your child can have.   We  still advise you to take a toilet paper roller and do your own at home test.  If the toy fits within diameter of the roller, put it away for now.

Is Lead Still An Issue this Holiday Season?

I recently did a radio interview with Richard Davies at ABC Radio. Richard commented that I was in a much better mood this holiday season.  I do feel lighter this season–after a couple of years of being worried about the safety of toys being marketed and sold to children.  The government is continuing to phase in the stricter testing requirements.  We are also really pleased that companies across the board are complying with our safety standards (we have taken the end point of the federal regulations and made them a prerequisite for companies submitting toys to us). So yes, I am a whole bunch happier this year.  Are there still safety issues?  Yes.  We still take issue with small pieces that “just” pass the choke tube test…or pull toys that no longer have a safety break-away  feature…or wooden toys with splinters…or smelly and excessively noisy toys…you get the idea.

But it is important that we have safety groups that are still spot checking. The CEH (Center for Environmental Health) have recently released some testing that found unsafe levels of lead in children’s products.  The non-profit is offering free toy testing in its Oakland office during the holiday season. For more info, visit www.ceh.org/dropintoytesting.

While we do not independently test each toy we review, we do require companies to submit and sign a safety verification form.  We looking forward to the day when we  no longer need such a form.