cpsia handmade toys, handmade toy alliance, handmade toy alliance dan marshall
AP Photo/Dawn Villella
Dan Marshall, co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care, poses in his St. Paul, Minn. store
Friday, March 27, 2009. Marshall is one of the founders of the Handmade Toy Alliance, which is
seeking to make changes in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

How to Buy Safe Toys This Holiday Season

December 03, 2009 03:00 PM
by James Sullivan
The dismal results of a study on the presence of harmful chemicals in U.S. toys means parents should maintain vigilance this holiday season as they shop for loved ones.

Toxic Toys

The fast-approaching holiday season and accompanying consumer blitz bring with it an annual battery of warnings about toy safety. The most recent report, issued Dec. 2 by the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, warns that toxic chemicals are present in a third of children’s toys in the United States.

Of the nearly 700 toys tested, AFP reports that 32 percent were found to contain one or more toxic chemical. Chemicals found include arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. Also disturbing is the revelation that 42 percent of toys contain PVC, a plastic derided for the hazards associated with its manufacturing, product life and disposal; it can also contain dangerous additives.

These results mirror last year’s, when one in three toys was found to contain potentially dangerous levels of lead or other chemicals, such as arsenic and mercury.

Related Topic: The CPSIA and handmade toys

Passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 created a stringent set of testing and documentation requirements for manufacturers of consumer products, particularly children’s products. In 2007, approximately 80 percent of all toys imported into the U.S. came from China. A host of issues related to these Chinese toys, including high toxicity and unsafe parts, formed the basis for the CPSIA’s creation.

Though fairly easy for large toy manufacturers to comply with, the law has been criticized for its affect on small businesses and toymakers. The primary issue is the high cost of compliance, which has the potential to drive many small toymakers out of business. The Handmade Toy Alliance argues it would cost between $300 and $4,000 per toy for an independent toymaker to undergo the testing process, conducted by third parties. The HTA, “an alliance of toy stores, toymakers and children’s product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve unique handmade toys, clothes, and all manner of children’s goods in the USA,” is spearheading an effort to change the CPSIA to protect the handmade toy industry.

In late October, The New York Times reported on the plight of small toymakers and the HTA’s quest to amend the 2008 legislation.

Background: Buying American

In 2007, parents were overwhelmed and confused when many Chinese toys were found to contain substances hazardous to children’s health. With 80 percent of toys coming from China, people were faced with the prospect of either continuing on as normal and endangering their children, or making an extra effort to buy American.

In the wake of poisonous pet food and dangerous children’s toys, more Americans were determined to buy domestic protects. A poor economy coupled with an increase in patriotism inspired consumers and added fuel to the fire.

Roger Simmermaker, who wrote a book titled “How Americans Can Buy American,” says that even in a global economy, buying American is easier than people think. “People can complain, well, 97 percent of the clothes we buy in the United States are imported,” he told MSNBC. “Well, I know where to find the 3 percent.”

Barbara Toncheff, a consumer who has always made an effort to buy American, sees the poor quality products as further evidence to support her values. She sees patriotism as closely related to consumerism, explaining to MSNBC, “July Fourth should truly mean independence. We shouldn’t become dependent on the rest of the world.”

Reference: Finding safe toys

Curious to know whether a specific toy could pose a hazard to your child? The Ecology Center offers consumers access to a database of toys tested during its studies. Search or browse toys using the blue box on the right of the page. The product pages detail which, if any, chemicals are present in the toy, and rate the overall level of contamination.

If a specific product hasn’t been tested, parents can make objective, empirical assessments of toys to determine their safety. The Nemours Foundation provides parents with guidelines to keep in mind when toy shopping, and also suggests age-appropriate (and age-inappropriate) toys.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web page, although poorly laid out, offers the most up-to-date and authoritative information on recalls and product safety.

Support the Handmade Toy Alliance this holiday season by purchasing quality, handmade toys, clothing and accessories from its members. For an abbreviated list, check out its featured members.

And when in doubt, searching the Internet for product reviews, reports or recall information is an effective option.

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